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Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  120 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
A brilliantly illuminating portrait of the twenty-first-century West—a book as vast, diverse, and unexpected as the land and the people, from one of our foremost chroniclers of migration

The economic boom—and the devastation left in its wake—has been writ nowhere as large as on the West, the most iconic of American landscapes. Over the last decade the West has undergone a p
ebook, 352 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Metropolitan Books (first published January 31st 2012)
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(showing 1-30)
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Amanda Moore
I found a lot of this book illuminating, but I read it in fits and starts because it couldn't always hold my attention. Ultimately, there isn't a compelling central narrative beyond the author's own experience, and I most enjoyed when he got out of the way and focused on issues within the desert itself. I almost gave up before the chapter on Marfa and am glad I didn't. Much of the information I take away makes me feel implicated as part of the problem (perhaps rightly so), but I continue to be i ...more
This book is so comprehensive that I barely know where to begin. It’s dense with facts yet personal because much of the information is gleaned from conversations with desert people from various cultures and backgrounds. We come to know these people as Martinez does: while roaming around the land, sifting through historical records they’ve gathered, sitting around in their living rooms. Martinez also skillfully weaves in the story of his own difficult life in northern New Mexico.

I’ve lived in the
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would highly recommend this book for anybody who is interested in understanding the southern American West. The chapters that deeply delve into the areas where he lived for a significant period of time like Joshua Tree and Northern New Mexico are the strongest. As someone who has lived in three of the four states he writes about, it is my perception that much of the complicated nature of the interactions he describes among people of different ethnic backgrounds in this region are authentic. Un ...more
Mike Anderson
Nov 02, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Outdated populist mythology delivered by an admitted drug addict. The narrative is soaked in the "poor little ol' me" excuse. If you are a serious socialist, or even a herion junkie, you might really like this book. I read all of it. I have lived in Northern New Mexico for quite some time, and I have visited the Marfa, TX area a few times. The author's message is lame and uninspiring. There are plenty of success stories in the modern American West. This book drifts all over the desert regions, l ...more
James Creechan
Overall I liked this book and would recommend it to anyone who has ever lived in the American Southwest.
But I also think that most people will appreciate some parts of it more than others, and I also think thatl readers will find different sections more interesting than others. It is a book that covers a large swath of the American Southwest from Joshua Tree to Texas with extended stops in between in Southern Arizona and Northern New Mexico. Few people have experienced all of these areas to the
Craig Werner
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latino-a, nature, west
On the surface, this is a book about the changing landscapes--natural and social--of the Southwest. It does that well with chapters on Martinez' time in New Mexico, Arizona and west Texas, always with his earlier life in L.A. in the background. He does a nice job tracking the impact of the real estate booms on communities, highlighting the tensions between the Nortenos, more recent Mexican immigrants, and the new arrivals, mostly white and affluent, seeking spiritual or creative connection with ...more
Bryan Rountree
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Asina nos vendemos." That's the way we sell out.

There is a lot of nuance to Desert America that, to me, explains the pool of reviewers who are claiming this hardback to be a snooze fest. It is a very personal read on behalf of author Ruben Martinez; one that demands a preexisting familiarity with the land and spaces he is writing about. By the very nature of Martinez's first-person reporting on the North American deserts that span Southern California to Far West Texas (and dip into northern Mex

What it all boils down to is the idea of being good neighbors, across cultural divides, across borders, across differences in how we view the land. I felt I learned a lot here about the borderlands of the desert southwest - its recent history and the conflicts that drive and divide the people here. About the moral ambiguities that should give us all pause. How to best help a man encountered in the desert, suffering from the effects of the border crossing on his diabetes? Get him medical help, d
Feb 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book was very interesting and informative about the cultural attitudes and historical differences among the native americans, new mexicans and mexicans. My enjoyment of this book was because I lived in Velarde NM and other villages mentioned in Mr. Martinez book. As Mr. Martinez noted, the Espanola Valley area has improved in the typical business developments(wal-mart, eateries, etc) but since my last visit in 2011, much of the cultural life remains as I remember when I lived there. We must have ...more
Jun 14, 2013 marked it as will-never-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
My problem with this book is that I kept falling asleep. I think this book has something of value to say and those that were able to read it without passing out, mentioned the vocabulary and sentence structure was fascinating.

Others loved the stories.

There were tidbits about his life and the history of the West that engaged me, but I would pass out for 2-3 hours if not more. A colleague mentioned this may be the result of exhaustion on my part than the actual quality of the book.

I intend on tac
I thought this would be a skimmer, but wow, I liked it so much that I only skimmed the last chapter and read the rest. I was particularly interested in Martinez’s portrayal of the interaction of Anglos, Hispanos, Chicanos, and (to a lesser extent) Native Americans in New Mexico, a state that seems below the radar of most news. He effectively pairs N.M. with Arizona as a study in contrasts. Jeez, there’s a lot in here: drugs, migrants, ethnic tension, flavors of environmentalism. The social empha ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults.
Recommended to Helen by: Nobody.
A tremendously interesting book about the author's process of coming to an understanding about the SW, by means of observations and conversations with a number of activists etc. A central theme is the fate of the illegal immigrants making the desert trek from Mexico to Texas, another issue is the misery of some residents, and the subsequent drug abuse, a way of self-medicating and dealing with the misery. The countryside is described in wonderful detail - the reader gets a clear picture of valle ...more
This was not the book I was led to expect from the jacket blurb, and yet I think I'll be pondering the themes and ideas in it for a long time to come. In part a memoir of Martinez's own passion for desert places, it also looks at the historic interactions between different waves of settlers and modern issues that face the American Southwest. The author covers a lot of territory, from issues of land use and water rights, to immigration, to gentrification and the erasure of minorities from popular ...more
Fred Freakoutski
A great book about the perils of gentrification and how it can divide and destroy communities, w/ the author's first hand observations in northern New Mexico and the Mojave Desert. No suggestions for remedy. Just a general angst about the way things are. Appreciate the author's honesty in exposing the negative impact that the transient monied class can have on rural places. I especially liked his line about speculators taking those characteristics that make a place special and commodifying them. ...more
Betty McMahon
Oct 14, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't finish this book, which doesn't happen very often. I tried but simply couldn't identify with his point of view or conclusions. I didn't think it was "brilliant or illuminating" as described. I bought the book because I have another of his, which I enjoyed -- but this one was not even well written, although he did use a lot of big words to show he was "adademic."
I expected one thing from the title and description of this book and got another. It was still somewhat interesting, but it wasn't the book I wanted to read. I'd have preferred to read about the people of the desert Southwest, new and old, and how we interact. This is a memoir of a guy who isn't from the desert, but wishes he was.
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gave a fair overview of the effect on desert communities of two of the Southwest's biggest challenges: drugs and border control. The book title though, seemed to suggest that there would be more of an analysis of the economic situation of the last decade, but that perspective was buried and unfocused, and the personal narrative that was supposed to tie it all together wasn't very compelling.
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the current socio-economic climate of the area
The author examines the grim reality of life in the Desert Southwest from his years as a member of an artists' community outside of Joshua Tree National Park to time spent in a small New Mexico community openly hostile to newcomers. His account dispelled any romanticized notions I had of desert living yet did not discourage me from returning to the area as a tourist.
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
smart and sort of random, with tendrils of about eight million stories weaving through it. I feel like I learned a bunch of things, but also that they didn't add up to anything coherent, which is fine. also apparently he knows Francesca Lia Block, whaaat
John Kissell
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Wonderfully written memoir and reporting. Ruben sets out on personal journey and finds complex, fascinating worlds. My wife's family comes from the Espanola Valley and the insights he offers ring true.
Daniel Hooker
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book and the best kind of creative nonfiction. Part social history of the American West, part meditation on the (un)natural environment, part personal narrative of addiction, recovery and soul-searching in the desert.
Blythe Gifford
I read a review on it in the Chicago Tribune and downloaded a sample from Kindle. Within a paragraph, I was breathless. Prose is wonderful and so is the viewpoint. Immediately going on the TBR pile.
Nando Villa
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great writer.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm fascinated with the desert and the american west - who ends up here and for what reasons? parts of this book were fascinating but ultimately too disjointed for a quality read.
Judy Johnson
rated it really liked it
Feb 08, 2014
Jacqueline Beiro
rated it it was amazing
Aug 24, 2017
rated it it was ok
Jul 29, 2014
Adam Ploetz
rated it liked it
Mar 28, 2017
Gary Smith
rated it it was ok
Aug 18, 2017
rated it really liked it
Sep 03, 2012
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Rubén Martínez, an Emmy-winning journalist and poet, is the author of Crossing Over, Desert America and The New Americans. He lives in Los Angeles, where he holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University.
More about Rubén Martínez...

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