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Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West
When award-winning author Judith Nies attended a glamorous movie-star event in Phoenix in 1982, she thought it was a celebration of the ancient culture of the Hopi Indians. Why, she wondered, did the reception include the executives of some of the largest mining, construction, and utility corporations in America?
Ten years earlier, as a young congressional staffer, she had watched Congress divide up between the Hopi and Navajo 4,000 square miles on Black Mesa, Arizona, lands that held the richest untouched coal deposit in the United States. Soon 15,000 Navajo were being relocated, and 21 billion tons of coal were being strip-mined to provide air conditioning for Los Angeles, water to Phoenix, and neon for Las Vegas.
In the intervening years, she followed the money that flowed from Black Mesa and witnessed long-term drought, temperatures up, and water supplies down. The result is that today California has the first mandatory water reduction laws in history, Las Vegas is talking about sustainability, and the word "drought" has taken on new meaning in the
Las Vegas has much to teach us in an era of climate change: "Just the Right Amount of Wrong" has changed to "Las Vegas is us." The desert city may still attract 39 million visitors a year, but tourists don’t see the astonishing drop in the water level of Lake Mead, or follow the route of “the new Chinatown,” a proposed multi-billion dollar water project from mountain valleys 200-miles north. The same mining and construction companies of Black Mesa operate globally and are spending millions to convince us that climate change isn’t happening and coal can be “clean.” But the mirage of limitless supply is dissolving. UNREAL CITY poses crucial questions about our gambling habits in the age of limits.
PRAISE FOR UNREAL CITY
Blood-boilingly splendid. Meticulously reported and shocking in detail, Unreal City brilliantly dissolves the fraudulently spun myths of the American West . . . brings scorching, revelatory light to the biggest undertold issue in America
—Katherine A. Powers, recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Nona Balakian Award for Excellence in Reviewing
"Nies' great triumph is to emphatically bring the "bloody nuisance" of the story behind the growth of the West to the public eye. Her book is essential reading for those seeking to understand the largely hidden history and the forgotten deals and injustices that keep Las Vegas and Los Angeles glimmering."
- Los Angeles Times Book Review
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“Meticulously researched… Nies’s persuasive argument and thorough investigative journalism make Unreal City a superbly revealing and deeply troubling book, and it is difficult to imagine a writer better situated to reveal the hidden and often shameful connections between ‘Wall Street, Washington, and the West.’” – Michael Branch, Orion Magazine Dec. 2014
Award-winning historian and journalist Judith Nies knows how the West was won, and valor and integrity didn’t have much to do with it. . . a riveting exposé of corruption, immorality and greed on a grand scale.
UNREAL CITY NAMED SOUTHWEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
Helene Woodhams, Coordinator of Southwest Books of the Year, Pima County Library
“A tough-minded account of Las Vegas . . . shocking yet artful, Nies owns this story as if it were autobiography…”
--Megan Marshall, Radcliffe Magazine
“What makes Nies’ approach even more persuasive is the fact she’s willing to bloody the noses of the limousine environmental crowd that usually comes away unscathed when studies of the plundering of the West are written. . . This is the real American hustle.”
John L. Smith, Las Vegas Review- Journal
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“Nies concludes we’re in the climate casino now. Who will win? Who will pay?”
- Sharman Russell, On Earth Magazine (Natural Resources Defense Council)
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“If you're headed to Las Vegas for vacation, pack this book along. In between visits to the giant pyramids and faux Manhattans, read it to get a real understanding of exactly how fragile this mirage is.”
—Bill McKibben, author Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape and founder, 350.org
“A hard-hitting chronicle of the hidden history behind the creation of Las Vegas... An important, multifaceted page-turner.”
– Kirkus Reviews
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“In this cautionary tale of money and power, Judith Nies has created a heart-wrenching account of the exploited American West—its resources and its people. Unreal City exposes the strange bedfellows and revolving doors that fuel crony capitalism. At the heart of it all is the public-private plunder that has sadly become the nation’s new normal, and the tragic toll it takes on everything in its path. Unsettlingly reminiscent of Polanski’s Chinatown, it is a brave undertaking.”
—Sally Denton, investigative reporter, historian, and author of The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America
“Unreal City is a thriller equal to any fiction out there. With impeccable journalism and an easy, lively style, Nies takes us from the halls of political power to the boardrooms of industry to the mesa-top villages and hogans of Black Mesa to tell this story of the energy demands of southwestern cities and the impact on traditional Native Americans. Rich in detail and beautifully told, this is a gripping story, and one we should heed as we struggle to balance our competing needs for energy, quality of life, and environmental and cultural preservation.”
—Lucy Moore, author Into the Canyon: Seven Years in Navajo Country and Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator
“We know the story of the men who built Las Vegas, but what about the industrialists who supplied its energy? "Unreal City" by Judith Nies is a four-decade long investigation into a battle for the rights to 21 billion tons of coal beneath Black Mesa in Arizona . . .gripping, insightful”
- Bloomberg News, One of 10 Best Nonfiction Books, Summer 2014
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“Essential reading for those seeking to understand the largely hidden history and forgotten deals that keep Las Vegas and Los Angeles glimmering.”
− Flagstaff Arizona Sun
“With journalistic discipline and outrage, Judith Nies tells of forgotten deals and historic injustices that keep western cities glimmering.”
−Maine Sunday Telegram
Publisher: Nation Books
Publication date: 4/8/2014