Christmas is coming and you’re still scratching your head over just what to get for that special Nevada friend or family member. How about a gift that will keep giving for years to come — a book, specifically a book about Nevada and/or the West?
A couple of the newest additions to this narrow genre are David Philipps’ “Wild Horse Country” and Range magazine’s “The Good, the Bad and the Bovine.”
Philipps explores the history of the wild horse in the West with a number of stops along the way in Nevada. He also addresses the issue of feral horse overpopulation and delves into the various options for solving the problem. It is thought provoking and informative.
In November, Range published a collection of articles and photos from its archive of thorough coverage of the people, places and issues touching on ranching and farming on the rangeland of the West. Titles include: “Don’t Fence ’Em In,” “The Ultimate Recycler,” “It’s in the Breeding,” “Cow Pie” and “A Ranger’s Reflection” — dispatches from the empty quarter.
Range boasts of the book, “The hardcover coffee-table edition is a not only a photographic tribute featuring works by some of the best ranch and wildlife photographers in the country, but there are some meaty stories penned by prize-winning writers.”
The magazine also has available on its website other books from recent years. Two of my favorites are “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West.” Both are coffee-table quality books packed with insightful poetry about life on the range and eye-popping paintings that stand up to favorable comparison to Remington and Russell. The wink-and-a-smirk doggerel of Elko’s Waddie Mitchell is worth the cover price alone.
Then there are the books from the dawn of the state’s history that should be on every Nevadan’s bookshelf. These include’s Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” of course, about his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel.
From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.
To learn more about the truth stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain.” My personal favorite insight is Hoffman’s busting the myth that Sam Clemens took his pseudonym from his steamboat days.
“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.”
For insight into the people who invented modern day Nevada, there are books such as Dallas Morning News reporter Doug Swanson’s “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.” The book takes the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.
Former Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith writes about a number of Nevada notables in “Sharks in the Desert,” covers the rise of casino owner Steve Wynn in “Running Scared” and tells of the mob lawyer-turned-Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman in “Of Rats and Men.”
Sally Denton reveals the company and the men who built Hoover Dam in her thoroughly researched book “The Profiteers” about the Bechtel Corporation.
Denton and Roger Morris also penned a book titled “The Money and the Power” about the making of Las Vegas since World War II, offering insightful peeks into the likes of gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, politician Pat McCarran and newspaper publisher Hank Greenspun.
For those who would like to climb out of the armchair and go visit on foot some of the gorgeous landscapes in Nevada and neighboring states, there is travel writer Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” which details how to get to and how to explore 101 hiking trails — from Arches to Zion National Parks, from Death Valley to the Ruby Mountains.
Many of these are available in local bookstores. All can be found online with the aid of a search engine.
And finally a blatant plug. If you’d like to keep your Nevada friends and family informed in the future, you can always give a subscription to this newspaper.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.