Read this on our road trip through Nevada, Arizona, and Southern California in May, and it was a terrific companion. The West fascinates me, but I feel like I know less about it than I do about some foreign countries — the politics, the history, the relationship of the inhabitants to the environment, the controversial issues, the very light! are all so different from what I’m accustomed to as a Midwesterner by birth, Easterner by education, and Southerner by fate. I learned a great deal about cattle, mining, and above all (always always) water. For weeks after reading this I couldn’t turn on the tap without anxiety. One of many notions I’ll remember from this: Cattle ranchers staking their claims to be able to graze their cattle for free on public lands by lobbying for legislation to preserve the “custom and culture” of the “old west.” This despite the fact that Europeans only brought cattle to North America some 400 years ago, and widespread cattle ranching in the American West has been going on for less than 200 years. Bison, whose ancestors crossed over the Bering Strait into North America around 500,000 years ago, are not seen by these ranchers as part of the heritage of the “old west.” The chapters on the disastrous legacy of copper mining in Montana also blew my mind. Lots of fascinating and vertiginous thinking along these lines to be found in here.