EMPIRES IN THE SUN: The Rise of the New American West by Peter & Robert Gottlieb Wiley

EMPIRES IN THE SUN: The Rise of the New American West

Email this review


Shake-and-blend the title and the subtitle, and you have an approximation of what this book is about: ""power relations"" in the ""arid West."" The authors have an idea of how those power relations developed--from the formation of a consortium of Western engineering firms, the Six Companies, to build the Hoover-Boulder Dam in 1931, through Henry Kaiser, A. P. Giannini, and the WW II boom, to the post-Vietnam ""corporate counteroffensive"" (against environmentalism, etc.) that climaxed in the Reagan victory. An account of this process, written in the tenor of an exposÉ, occupies the book's first section. We hear, for example, of the oil companies, and other giants, shifting their ""aggressive resource strategy"" from hot spots overseas to the interior West: ""In the great raid of the 1950s and 1960s, a handful of corporations, for ridiculously low prices, gained control of resources soon to be worth billions."" (In the same paragraph: ""the new energy conglomerates leased public coal at incredibly low prices."") In a general sense, this is not disputable--nor is it news. What Wiley and Gottlieb have chiefly done is to couch it in terms of a new, bad Western establishment, reminiscent of the old, bad Eastern establishment. The second section deals separately with six cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. In each case, we see power conflicts with a local tinge and a common outcome: ""In 1981, San Francisco was still in the hands of the rich and the powerful""; on the top floor of Denver's Anaconda tower, ""you enter the Denver where the real power lies and where the crucial decisions are made."" As expressions of moral outrage, such formulations have a perennial appeal; their actual value is minimal. The third section deals with the effect of the region's development on the Indians, on Mexican labor, and on unionization--and insofar as it is more specifically concerned with issues, its partisanship is more appropriate and its attention more focused. (The material on unions--a secondary strain also in the cities' section--most concretely adds to what's already available.) Overall, however, the book has little to offer beyond the Evil of Western corporate interests--especially when measured against Philip Fradkin's intellectually rigorous, factually precise study of the region's dominant problems, A River No More (1981, p. 612).

Pub Date: March 15th, 1982
Publisher: Putnam