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Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West
When author Judith Nies was invited to a glamorous movie-star event in Phoenix, she thought it was a celebration of the art and ancient history of the Hopi Indians. Why, she wondered, did the reception include the executives from some of the largest mining, construction and utility companies in America? Why did Senator Barry Goldwater turn on his heel and abruptly walk away when she was introduced to him as a former congressional speechwriter. Why were a group of Navajo Indians demonstrating outside the Valley National Bank building during the opening press conference?
An epic struggle over land, water, and power was underway on 4,000 square miles of northern Arizona's Black Mesa and in the halls of Congress. Black Mesa held the largest untouched coal deposit in the United States. To the outside world, it was a struggle between two fractious Indian tribes; to political insiders and the energy corporations it was a divide and conquer play for access to the 21 billion tons of coal that lay beneath the Hopi and Navajo lands. The coal was to be used to provide the energy for air-conditioning and to pump water into Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
Today, forty years later, these same desert cities are in the midst of a "megadrought" with three-digit temperatures and slashed water supplies. Photographs on the national news show the cracked, dried-up lake bed of Lake Mead, the world's largest reservoir and a source of water for forty million people. For the first time in history the US government has had to cut water supplies from the Colorado River. Because of climate change, the slow-melting snowpack in the Rockies that channeled to the mighty Colorado River has turned to widely dispersed rain. The same mining, construction, and development companies that sold America a "desert miracle" are now spending billions to convince us that climate change is not happening, that coal can be "clean," and we can pipe water down from the rivers of northern Canada. UNREAL CITY poses challenging questions about our gambling habits in an age of limits.
Publisher: Nation Books
Publication date: 4/8/2014
"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."
– HECTOR TOBAR - 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. . . 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
"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, an area that was once divided between the Hopi and Navajo tribes. The story of how the government evicted the Native Americans to power the cities of the Southwest is a gripping, occasionally nauseating insight into how Las Vegas was made -- and how it just might be undone."
– Bloomberg News, One of 10 Best Nonfiction Books, Summer 2014
"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
"Nies concludes we're in the climate casino now. Who will win? Who will pay?"
– Sharman Russell, On Earth Magazine
"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 and founder of 350.org