Cover image for In Nevada : the land, the people, God, and chance
In Nevada : the land, the people, God, and chance
Thomson, David, 1941-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : A.A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 330 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F845 .T48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"At once examining and experiencing Nevada, Thomson finds its people, its landscape, and the unexpected questions it inspires equally provocative. He shows us the historical Nevada - a classic Wild West, attracting Spanish missionaries, Mormons, uprooted Native Americans, explorers, and silver miners - and the contemporary influx of cultists, druggies, survivalists, and fortune hunters whose quests lead directly to the gaming table." "We see Nevada as a place of no-holds-barred experimentation, both social (gambling, prostitution, easy divorce, no taxes) and scientific (nuclear testing and storage of nuclear waste). We see suburbanites rubbing shoulders with sybarites; the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe, shadowed by the financial edifice of tourism; criminals, entertainers, and hotel impresarios sharing dreams of glory (and the memory of Bugsy Siegel and Frank Sinatra)." "In Nevada is a revelation of the gambler's mix of hope and anxiety, of the isolation and closeness, the beauty and banality, the fact and fancy, at the heart of the state - and the state of mind - of Nevada."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When Thomson writes a book, it is time for a celebration. For too long readers have been struggling, consciously or unconsciously, with the constant stream of autobiographical babble from writers suffering from all manner of abuse. Then along comes a Thomson and our abilities to dream are reawakened. No doubt Thomson could take any topic, even Nevada, and start the old gray cells jumping, for he believes in stories and "in very little except those who believe in stories." He shamelessly offers others' stories and is constantly making up his own as he imagines what drove the first adventurers and dreamers to the desert, which prompts the reader to join in this act. Imagine the old prospector in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre taking leave of his family, "Of course, my dears, I'd love for you to come, and how I will miss you, but stay here and I will send for you, by and by, when we are rich. When I learn to write." Nevada has been a lightning rod for so many people, and time increases its attraction. In 1980 the population was 800,493, by 1990 it was 1,201,833 (according to Thomson, who is a storyteller), and by 2020 Thomson and the U.S. Census Bureau project a population of 4 million. So who does Thomson track to find his stories: pioneers and schemers such as John Charles Fremont and Jesse Benton, Joseph Smith (and his wife Emma) and Brigham Young; authors Walter Van Tilburg Clark (The Track of the Cat) and Arthur Miller (The Misfits); entertainers Frank Sinatra and Wardell Gray; killers and cultists and druggies; the land itself; and the Liberace Museum. From the desert to Disneyland. --Bonnie Smothers

Publisher's Weekly Review

It may come as a shock to learn that there's more to Nevada than Reno and Las Vegas. As Thomson's compulsive meanderings through the Sagebrush State make clear, there's a whole other Nevada out thereÄeven if it's mostly just empty space. Not unlike the dense historiography of John McPhee, this impressionistic series of sketches gives readers the feeling of having a well-informed sidekick riding shotgun through sage-strewn stretches of Highway 376. Thomson augments his observations with judicious bits of local history, showing how the desolate region has paradoxically become the most rapidly growing state in the union. Drawing gamblers, real estate barons and UFO enthusiasts by the busload, Nevada boasts a long history of rough-edged prospector types looking to strike it rich. A concurrent tradition of off-handed violence has lingered ever since the newborn Nevada Territory built a prison as one of its first official acts. Thomson (Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles) clearly has an appetite for the gritty stage machinery behind the glossy showmanship. Thumbnail sketches abound of Steve Wynn, Frank Sinatra and lesser-known impresarios, alongside historical riffs on such places as Reno, the self-proclaimed "Biggest Little City in the World." To the crowded gaming tables and the stark mountains that surround them, Thomson brings an appealingly philosophical frame of mind, an ability to throw sophisticated musingsÄabout transience, history, placeÄout into the landscape as if waiting to see if they will take root. Photos. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In some respects, Thomson captures the essence of Nevada in one of his closing statements when he writes, "Nevada is the north and the south; it is the greatest concentration of hotel rooms in the world and the expanses in which there is no bed to be found." Nevada, "the silver state," truly is a paradox. And, while Thomson spends a great many words on Las Vegas, with its checkered past and ever-changing future, he finds himself spiritually drawn to the deserted expanses of northern Nevada. A film critic and author of numerous books on Hollywood (including Rosebud: The Story of Orson Wells), Thomson treats Nevada as if it were a celluloid fantasy: he swings abruptly from one topic to another, promises frequently to "return to" a subject later, and repeats historical tidbits. One senses that each chapter is more a free-standing essay than part of a whole. All this aside, Thomson explores Nevada thoroughlyÄfrom the area known as Bravo 20 to the shores of Lake Tahoe and from nuclear testing to Burning ManÄand captures a unique and unusual place. Recommended for larger public libraries.ÄJanet N. Ross, Sparks Branch Lib., NV (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I'm not sure why I feel compelled to tell you this straightaway, for it was a plan I abandoned thoroughly long ago. Still, it did occur to me once to make my book about Nevada the journal narrative of some kind of investigator -- he was maybe a simple-enough researcher, a lone and altruistic inquirer after truth, equipped with his own eyes, his mind, and a fairly reliable vehicle. Then at other times, I had a notion that he was grant-aided and equipped with a camera, a sophisticated video camera, one that could even operate on its own, panning and zooming at random. So the researcher might sit nearby, sipping a cold beer while the camera observed, recorded, and took in the beautiful emptiness and the just as tranquil, patient uneventfulness of Nevada. But then, somehow, he was to begin to believe that he was being followed, and that his investigation -- as it were -- was being tracked by others (readers? or one of those "theys" we dread?). Had his witless camera seen some stray gem or germ of a story, or minable intrigue, that his eye had never noticed? Had his inquiry stumbled on a secret? Or was the sense of secrecy just a measure of the odd loneliness, and its fever, that sets in as you drive through those places? After all, while some have said that, sooner or later, all the paranoids and conspiratorialists go to Nevada, others believe that it is the deep and ultimate vacancy of the place that stimulates storytelling. It is a great state for the kinds of belief that challenge reason, judicious observation, and the general reluctance to be carried away. On the other hand, the sublime distances prompt thoughts of nothing more sweet or beguiling than being transported, carried off, of being in a state of traveling, as in a car at eighty miles per hour, or on a moving camera tracking over the speckled desert. These distances are all scientifically measurable: you can make notes from the odometer; you could, with surveying instruments, turn the haze and the vista into mathematics. You can work out the distances, the square mileage, the meager rainfall or even the specific density of Nevada. You could map it all, and tell yourself that every page or portion of the state was available as an inch-to-the-mile diagram, or whatever. But put the map beside a photograph -- more or less any photograph -- and you cannot really avoid the indicators that the distance, the space, is more than the numbers. It is a romance and an idea -- like "over there" or "once upon a time." Well, it was the end of the decade, the end of the century. It was the millennium up ahead, and few could disown or deny the nervousness that was creeping in. On the great radio show that comes out of Nevada, Art Bell (a hero I pray not to meet, for distance is his enchantment) was talking of "the quickening." He meant by that the rash of extreme weathers affecting the Earth, and the mounting scale of "incidents" in and around Nevada -- the sighting of UFOs, or lights in the sky; the calm reports by ordinary people of how they had been taken away and examined by aliens; and so on. And the quickening was something that had the need of some great crisis ahead -- Y2K, 2000, the collapse of economies; the sudden draining away of hope and human nature; a month in which no casino jackpot paid off (or every one did, breaking the bank), the necessary reprisal of some god or other. You never know -- God save us, and let us never know. And my thoughts -- my interest in the real history, and even my urge to make a book -- turned to Nevada. I wasn't quite sure why, and I used to enjoy being bland and helpless when people asked why. "I don't really know," I'd say. "It's this urge I feel." As if the whole thing were a love affair, or some kind of magnetic attraction. I began traveling in the state, driving, following the empty roads and the off-roads, stopping here and there. This developed over a period of years, and I picked up history and anecdote as I progressed. But the idea of a book set in when I realized how much I was moved by the desolation, and its stories, and how much I wanted to explain or explore that feeling. So the book begins with journeys, or traveling -- for space here is history, time and again. The journeys are not "organized"; they do not follow on or link up; but the driver, the eye, and the wonderings are all the same. Of course, you might analyze the drives I report here, and see a pattern -- as if my car were really a UFO making certain mathematically aligned "passes." The alien looks at Nevada? Looking for a retirement place, like so many others? No, I am too young by far for that. And surely if I were an alien, I'd have been told. Wouldn't I? Yes, that's right, I haven't really mentioned Las Vegas yet -- and some believe that Nevada is nothing but that unique international city, not just the fastest-growing metropolis in the United States but an abiding El Dorado, or Hell, for the rest of the world. Have no fear: We do get to Las Vegas eventually; we will play its games and run its stories. But Nevada is much more -- and was, for ages, before Vegas was ever thought of. And may be again. For the desert and desertedness are the true character of the state, and there is no proper getting to Vegas without crossing the desert first. That is how you can see its glow reflected in the sky, so that you wonder if it is burning already. And, as we shall see, in Nevada, there is burning for a moment, like a struck match, and being on fire for eternity. All that is a way of saying that this book begins with travels in empty places and then moves south to consider Las Vegas and those other experimental places close to Vegas. So, be patient, for everything I describe has been here a long time already, and will see us off without stirring. Excerpted from In Nevada: The Land, the People, God and Chance by David Thomson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. xi
Map of Nevadap. xv
Prospects: Travels in the remote and northern parts of the state that also uncover the history of Nevadap. 1
Suspects: Historic developments in southern Nevada--at Las Vegas and the Test Site--with reflections on degrees of gamblingp. 157
Collects: Prayers for Nevada, its present and futurep. 275
Postscriptp. 307
Notes and Recommended Readingp. 309
Indexp. 317