"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

I am embarrassed to say I have just read this amazing book..  My husband read it 25 years ago and has continued over the years to sing its praises and to encourage me to read it.  But daunted by its length and thinking I would need an engineering degree to understand it, I kept deflecting his recommendation.  Strange, then, that I should suggest it as a selection for our book club, and stranger yet that I would offer to lead its discussion.  Admittedly, while reading the first chapter I questioned my sanity for doing so.  Within 50 pages or so, however, I was hooked - by the content and by the quality of writing.

Cadillac Desert is the riveting tale of "the American West and Its Disappearing Water." It is also a tale of greed, fraud, duplicity, arrogance, hypocrisy, cronyism, graft, blind ambition, and plunder...to list some of the words that thundered in my mind as I poured through Reisner's expose. It is the story of "rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights and ecologic and economic disaster." A course in history and political science.   It is well-documented, compelling, perceptive and even occasionally witty. 

Halfway through the book I found myself doing additional research and came upon a series of videos on the Internet produced before Reisner's death in 2000, capturing interviews with him and with a villain of this saga,  Floyd Dominey, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation for 10 years.  I downloaded Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner, a book Reisner cited and respected. I found myself learning more than I had from any other book I've read in the past 10 years.  I decided that whether anyone else in the book club applauded this selection, I thought it was one of the best and most important selections chosen in the two years I have participated. 

As it turned out, I need not be concerned.  Everyone in our group of 15 found Cadillac Desert valuable, intriguing, an important contribution, a powerful learning experience.  And agreed that he or she would recommend it to anyone who is concerned about the issue of water or the future of the western states in particular.  I'm only sorry I didn't read it sooner.


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