READER NOTE: See the New York Times article ([...]) of 5/30/04 for independent corroboration of my review, written approximately 6 months earlier.
This book is a good read, successfully revising many of the standard clich?s about Las Vegas, and therefore is a welcome change from so much superficial writing. However, like much of the blatant boosterim that passes for news about Las Vegas, the book essentially ignores the myriad deep-seated social problems out-of-state readers will not be aware of. Nevada in general and Las Vegas in particular are at or near the bottom in many indicators of public life, environmental, and educational health and wellness. The state has even been referred to as the "Alabama of the West" because of its weak state government, relatively poor public health, and poor per capita finance for secondary and higher education. As a practical matter, due to local governments that fail to place even slight restrictions on growth, the Las Vegas Valley is a currently a seething caldron of runaway development, overcrowded schools, roadways approaching gridlock, and increasing water shortages. A pall of dust and smog frequently obscure the surrounding mountains, a direct result of explosive and largely unplanned growth. Rothman's book is entertaining and illuminating about the Las Vegas urban culture. However, it fails to rigorously examine severe underlying problems that heavily influence the quality of present and future life in Las Vegas, in favor of unfounded admiration cloaked in academic-style historical analysis.
A few examples:
? Las Vegas has the highest rate of high school dropouts in the U.S. entering its labor force.
? Las Vegas has one of the lowest percentages of persons in the U.S. with bachelors degrees, given the size of its population, in its labor force. As a University of Nevada - Las Vegas sociologist recently said, you don't think of highly educated people when you think of Las Vegas.
? Las Vegas and Nevada have one of the highest rate of childhood dental problems.
? Las Vegas and Nevada have one of the highest suicide rates and AIDS infection rates in the U.S.
? Las Vegas and southern Nevada have no public mental health hospitals.
? Southern Nevada's only Level I trauma recently closed, but later opened after state intervention, due to physicians leaving the state because of malpractice premiums.
? Three Clark County, Nevada commissioners are facing federal charges for accepting bribes to aid the owner of a local strip club. One other has accepted plea bargains on a similar charge.
? After years of rhetoric about the need to diversity its economy, Las Vegas is more than ever wedded to and dependant on the gaming industry. Other western cities (Albuquerque, Boulder, Salt Lake City, Phoenix) are far ahead in luring technology-based businesses.
This old problem is rooted in the state's lack of a recognized research university coupled with a somewhat accurate image among the sophisticated technology industry as an unimaginative playground of retirees, second-rate schools, gambling, booze, and the flamboyant sex-as-spectacle tourism industry. Can these built-in barriers to becoming a city recognized for something other than slot machines at car washes ever be overcome? This book is completely silent on that topic. So, read this book, but bear in mind Las Vegas and Nevada continue to be places with long standing social, political, economic, educational, and environmental shortcomings usually ignored or not even acknowleged by the elected leadership.