I’ve talked about my youngest brother before. He is the type who would leave really horrible books hidden in your bookshelf. He is also the type to unload his old books on you. He is ALSO the type who is studying environmental law in law school. I generally have a queue of books that I am scheduled to read, but my little brother is a perpetual queue skipper. He came over with a book he’d read for one of his classes and wanted someone to discuss it with. As he knows I will read almost anything, I was an obvious choice.
Some more back story to put my knowledge of the subject matter into perspective. I grew up in rural Utah where water is scarce, and in my lifetime, a neighbor was shot over a water dispute. Seriously. Very wild west. I’m also a bit of a water conservationist, in theory… and I married an environmentalist so things like water conservation are often on my mind. Cadillac Desert was written almost 30 years ago (27 actually, but lets round up) so immediately I am left to wonder about the validity of such a work especially in relation to the current water situation in North America. As a work detailing the history of water legislation and dam building, it would make a decent resource if it were better organized. Reisner skips back and forth and to and fro in a manner that left me annoyed. He tried to begin chronologically, then skipped to some major dam projects, then spent some time being a bigot against the Mormon religion, then some more time predicting gloom and doom and terror for the US. I feel if Reisner could have picked a topic and stuck with it (the competition between the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, turning the California desert into farmland, failing dam projects, water legislation, etc) the book would have been more of a success. As it was Reisner scratched the surface of many topics making me doubt his understanding of the topic as a whole. I didn’t doubt his passion. Reisner hates dams, and this book was not written in a neutral way outlining two sides of an issue, which is a shame. Water as a scarce resource is nothing if not a complex issue.
To me, this book was good in that it sparks conversation, and bits of the history are interesting. Unfortunately, the poor organization and obvious bias (one that I share, but when I read a non fiction, I want to see all sides of a topic) made this book almost unreadable. I would recommend this to students studying resource management, or civil engineers who might be taken with the history, but for current information about water and the ill effects of dam projects in North America… I’m still looking for a good book, and am open to suggestion.