For his brilliant reportage ranging from the forested recesses of the Amazon to the manicured lawns of Westchester County, New York, Alex Shoumatoff has won acclaim as one of our most perceptive guides to the oddest corners of the earth. Now, with this book, he takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey into the most complex and myth-laden region of the American landscape and imagination.
In this amazing narrative, Shoumatoff records his quest to capture the vast multiplicity of the American Southwest. Beginning with his first trip after college across the desert in a station wagon, some twenty-five years ago, he surveys the boundless variety of people and experiences constituting the place--the idea--that has become America's symbol and last redoubt of the "Other. From the Biosphere to the Mormons, from the deadly world of narcotraffickers to the secret lives of the covertly Jewish conversos, Shoumatoff explores the many alternative states of being who have staked their claim in the Southwest, making it a haven for every brand of refugee, fugitive, and utopian. And as he ventures across time and space, blending many genres--history, anthropology, natural science, to name only a few--he brings us a wealth of information on chile addiction, the diffusion of horses, the formation of the deserts and mountain ranges, the struggles of the Navajo to preserve their culture, and countless other aspects of this place we think we know.
Full of profound sympathy and unique insights, Legends of the American Desert is a superbly rich epic of fact and reflection destined to take its place among such classics of regional portraiture as Ian Frazier's Great Plains. Alex Shoumatoff has created an exuberant celebration of a singularly American reality.
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Alex Shoumatoff was born in Mt. Kisco, New York, in 1946. Formerly a staff writer for The New Yorker and now a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, he has been hailed for his profiles of personalities from Chico Mendes to Dian Fossey, and for his reporting from the farthest-flung reaches of the world, from Africa to Tibet. He is the author of nine previous books. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and four sons.From Kirkus Reviews:
A masterfully written study of a region that is at once familiar and utterly foreign, by a journalist who has written for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and other magazines. Little eludes the grasp of Shoumatoff (The World Is Burning, 1990, etc.) in this roughly chronological account of the Southwest's earliest peoples, its conquest and settlement by Spain, its later flood of Anglo immigrants and its most recent incarnation as a region of water-guzzling ``urban oases.'' While the history has already been told (and Shoumatoff acknowledges as much), the author here puts it into a highly vibrant context as he crisscrosses the land, pursuing its ancient and more modern history. Shoumatoff travels to the remotest precincts of northern Mexico's Sierra Madre, whose spectacular silver-veined canyons are now ruled by violent drug lords who have routinely murdered scores of uncooperative Tarahumara Indians. He jourrneys to the ruins of one of the supposed Seven Cities of Cibola in New Mexico, where the Zuni people, who wiped out a Spanish expedition over four centuries ago, still reside. With the mother of Navajo and former marine Clayton Lonetree, he visits the young man incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth. Frequent asides happily intrude throught out this sprawling volume: In no specific order, short chapters are devoted to such arcane subjcts as the history of the chile pepper; the hidden Jews of New Mexico; a stretch of Route 66. But of greatest saliency in this remarkable work, and what stitches its widely spaced locales together, is the nearly atavistic struggle among the Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures for access to resources, a competition in which the latter has appropriated most of what is valuable in the Southwest, especially water, permitting the wasteful, extravagant lifestyles of metropolises such as Phoenix and Albuquerque, and the exclusive enclave of Santa Fe. Shoumatoff's book is a definitive accomplishment--an entertainingly informative read that must rank among the preeminent works on this region. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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