An atrociously written jeremiad--but also the most diligent and comprehensive current survey of our unique public-lands system. Amid a jangle of hysterical noises about the purifying influence of wilderness and the ravenous greed of ""economic interests,"" one gradually discerns an excellent grasp on the functioning of a far-flung, confused bureaucratic patchwork embracing at least five major agencies of varied Cabinet parentage and ill-defined responsibilities. The US Forest Service, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation are united only in their muddled (often directly conflicting) mandates and susceptibility to manipulation by private greed. Shanks patiently sorts out the historical origins of these and a few lesser agencies, traces the course of Federal land acquisitions on up to the 1980 Alaska Lands Act, and surveys some major policy issues--oil and mineral leasing, grazing access, water rights, and other assignments of private benefits--that have confronted public-land management since Theodore Roosevelt and Gilford Pinchot. There are more cogent chronicles of American conservation, and far more coherent summaries of recent abuses (the Lash/Gillmore/Sheridan A Season of Spoils, p. 345). Shanks has a fondness for namecalling; he never bothers to document a claim; he is a poor organizer. (And, as a Park Service veteran, he clearly loathes both the Forest Service and the BLM.) Yet the most disgusted reader has to grant Shanks some first-rate insight (like the observation that the contents of underground aquifers are in truth ""fossil water"" that should be treated like other nonrenewable fossil resources), a surprisingly fair-minded appraisal of an agency's organizational strengths and weaknesses, and worthy suggestions on how to restructure an aspect of management (e.g., spell out acceptable levels of use in granting grazing fights on rangeland, and assign them by fixed-term permits sold at actual market value). Though Shanks is a naive tub-thumper, students of the subject will find valuable pickings here.