Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles

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9780060166984: Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles

A biography of the engineer who designed and built the Los Angeles Aqueduct traces the rise and fall of William Mulholland, the architect of an aqueduct 250 miles long designed to bring Los Angeles all the water it needed. 15,000 first printing.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Sluggish account of the financial and political maneuverings that marked efforts to bring water to the arid Los Angeles Basin at the turn of the century. Realizing that their drought-plagued city's growth would be checked unless immense supplies of water could be made readily available, officials of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (headed by engineer William Mulholland), in conjunction with local politicians, devised a plan to divert the water of northern California's Owens River through a monumental system of aqueducts, canals, tunnels, and reservoirs 250 miles south to L.A. When word of the plan spread, a land boom resulted, particularly in the desertlike San Fernando Valley. Once the conduit system was in place--after an incredible effort involving thousands of workers and six years of backbreaking labor--irate residents living near the Owens River, deprived of the water essential to their agriculture-based economy, tried to sabotage the system with derringers, dynamite, and demonstrations. The tense situation continued until March 12, 1928, when a major dam in the system collapsed, causing millions of dollars in property damage and more than five hundred deaths. During an official inquiry, Mulholland took responsibility for the catastrophe but was cleared of criminal charges. He died in 1935, a broken man--and in the years since, the Colorado River has replaced the Owens as L.A.'s water source. All this should have made for an engrossing narrative (Mulholland's debacle formed the basis of the film Chinatown), but Davis writes with little color or inflection. Though she centers her narrative on Mulholland, she never gets beneath the surface of his obsessive, autocratic personality--nor does she supply insights into the boomtown boosterism that pervaded official L.A. circles and prompted the grandiose plan in the first place. Exciting when detailing the harrowing dam collapse, but this episode isn't enough to energize an otherwise lackluster presentation. (Thirty b&w photographs--not seen) -- Copyright 1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Davis ( Lovers, Doctors and the Law ) offers an arresting biography of William Mulholland, the visionary Los Angeles Water Department engineer who designed the Owens Valley Aqueduct. Completed in 1913, the aqueduct harnessed a river 250 miles north of L.A. and brought water to a city otherwise doomed to stagnation. Not since Roman times had such an immense water project been undertaken; Mulholland was the first American to make practical use of hydraulic sluicing, a technique that would later solve many of the Panama Canal's construction problems. Although it made Mulholland a hero, the aqueduct also devastated Owens Valley towns, farms and individuals, enriched speculators and fostered corruption. Mulholland's legacy is similarly ambiguous. In 1928, his auxiliary St. Francis Dam, supposedly the safest in the world, collapsed, bringing down its creator's lofty reputation as 12 billion gallons of water sprewed across 65 miles to the sea. Mulholland's depression over the disaster persisted to his death in 1935 at the age of 79. These personal and public dramas make for gripping reading. Photos not seen by PW .
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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