Relentlessly upbeat chronicle of America’s capital of glamour, sin, money-laundering, and heavyweight boxing—somewhat surprising, coming from the editor of the journal Environmental History and author of Saving the Planet (2000).
Rothman (History/Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas) posits that his city “is the therapeutic ethos of our time run amok, our sociopsychological promise to ourselves to be eternally young writ large.” Las Vegas “symbolizes the new America,” where concepts like traditional community or an industry-based economy came to die; this new template of a globalized, service-based entertainment economy requires the reader to discard familiar notions of “space, order, economy, and standards . . . replace them with a new kind of intellectual organization that is still being formed.” In pursuit of this new perspective, the author divides his arguments into three sections. “Making Money” chronicles the checkered history of casino control, hailing the 1980s transition from decades-long Mafia ownership to the Wall Street ethos represented by Steve Wynn’s Mirage. “Filling Las Vegas” addresses the city’s fluctuating demographic, characterizing a transitory, fragmented population as filled with entrepreneurial spirit and desire for both glitz and community. “Building a New City” notes Vegas’s failure to deal realistically with sprawl-related issues like traffic and depicts developers’ aggressive transformation of the desert with housing both affordable and opulent. Rothman is a competent writer whose research and thought combine cultural studies with pro-business attitudes. The result is an aggressive, boosterish tone that will alienate many readers: the author never met a corporate shark he didn’t like, including Mob-lawyer-turned-mayor Oscar Goodman. Rothman acknowledges Vegas’s ills in strong passages on service-economy labor strife, and the dangerous demographics of a youthful, nonwhite working class servicing a shrinking, aging, wealthy population, but he barely addresses the connection between those shortcomings and the city’s transformation by corporate interests wedded to market forces.
Elaborate justification for anything an outsider might doubt about Gambler’s Paradise.