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Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  460 ratings  ·  50 reviews
In 1851, a war began in what would become Yosemite National Park, a war against the indigenous inhabitants that has yet to come to a real conclusion. A century later—1951—and about a hundred and fifty miles away, another war began when the U. S. government started setting off nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site, in what was called a nuclear testing program but functioned ...more
Paperback, 420 pages
Published April 14th 2000 by University of California Press (first published September 1st 1994)
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Jul 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Solnit has a remarkably distinct voice. I found the first part of this, which takes place at the Nevada Testing site to be the most effective. But that's not to say the second part, with its real history (early ethnic cleansing) behind the creation of Yoesmite National Park, doesn't fit under Solnit's umbrella title: Savage Dreams. Solnit's subjects are deeply troubling, nevertheless her voice is a hopeful one that focuses on what the committed individual can accomplish through activism. You may ...more
Sep 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars.

Very well written travelogue and interesting histories and geography around the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and its impact on the Western Shoshone. The second half of the book is about the Mariposa and Yosemite Wars of the 1850s.
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I recently reread this book and was completely enraptured a second time. Rebecca Solnit has a beautiful and succinct voice, using language that is at once poetic (without being overly flowery) yet cuts to the heart of the matter of whatever she's writing about. Solnit is a magnificent researcher and is remarkably even-handed as well, providing SO much vital information and her p.o.v. while allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions on the history she lays before us. This book was parti ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it liked it
I think it was interesting I just don't enjoy nonfiction very much. Sometimes it was a complete info dump with not that much organization which made it hard to follow but I enjoyed all of the narrative parts. ...more
Sep 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Two stories loosely joined - one of the nuclear test site in Nevada and the environmental/indigenous activism against nuclear testing, one of the development - and idea - of Yosemite National Park. I think I prefer this author at essay length, but the explorations of these subjects through the lens of her own engagement was beautiful/ terrifying/ thought-provoking all the same.
Kody Harrison
Important concepts, but read like a textbook.
Andrea dM
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Solnit does this brilliant thing many writers (including me, yet) can't get away with: she writes rambling narratives in which seemingly disparate topics collide by the end of a chapter into a sensemaking that no linear, expectable essay could possibly achieve. Book 1 is set mostly in Nevada over the 20th century, amidst the indigenous fight for sovereignty and the fallout of nuclear devastation. It reminds me of Susan Griffin's Chorus of Stones, except Solnit is there, and tells us so. I like t ...more
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
A stunningly intelligent, if meandering walk through a complicated landscape of deserts and nuclear weapons, political activism, Native American rights, our view of nature and the history of Western expansion. Solnit writes with a blend of personal, philosophical and journalism observation that can at times be scattered, but do add up to a brilliant whole. It's like talking to one of the smartest people you know, but whose conversation jerks from topic to topic, with connections only he or she c ...more
May 30, 2010 rated it did not like it
I went into this book hoping for a detailed history of the struggle over land usage in the West. What I got was an antinuclear testing political book that touched lightly on the history and focused more on meanderings on the author's family (which usually didn't apply to the focus of the book), making a bunch of leftist stereotypical statements that were more leftist than even I prefer, mixed in with some but not enough useful history about nuclear bomb testing in Nevada. Not what I was looking ...more
Jun 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Skillfully crafted dual narratives deconstruct the mythologized, pornagraphized Yosemite Valley which was in fact the cultivated garden of the native population eradicated to create a consumable "wilderness" intellible to expansionist and romanticist sensibilities. Particularly poignent is the anecdote about the displaced chief, brought back into the park and told that Tioga Lake had been named for him. Morosely, he replied, "it already has a name." Whew! ...more
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Rich, perceptive, and horrifying as usual.
Karolina Slup
Aug 25, 2022 rated it really liked it
I can’t rate anything that Rebecca Solnit wrote lower than 4 stars. I just love her writing so much, and I find it resonating with me enormously every time. All the knowledge she provides in this book is extremely valuable, and it blows my mind that to this day Nevada Test Site history is so little known. The only disadvantage of the book for me, was how it became so much like a boring history school book when the Yosemite part started. I just couldn’t relate to this part too much. It doesn’t ch ...more
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-x-delta, enviro
This book is quite dense but filled with information and interesting connections that prompted much thought during and after reading.

My main complaint is the confusing timeline, especially in the first part of the book. Solnit describes her experiences transgressing the Nevada Test Site and working with activists. But along the way she diverges to explain their journey and maybe even another encounter she had with that activist before going back to the main timeline. Confusing and not really ne
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a ton reading this! And although, as a 25+ year old book, it certainly didn't feel topical, it does feel relevant (because it turns out we haven't solved these problems), and I was struck by how absent some of these concerns -- nuclear testing -- are from our (my?) radar, while others -- native sovereignty -- feel much more pertinent. ...more
Sep 02, 2022 added it
Parts of this were really powerful - I learned a lot about nuclear testing and the beginning of the tourism industry to national parks through the history of Yosemite. Other parts felt like name dropping of people I'm not familiar with (the book was originally published in the early 90s). Part of my efforts to select more books talking about the western U.S. and its history. ...more
Jan Patterson
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Explains a LOT about the current way of thinking of federal/private lands and their use. God, I love her writing.
Anna Milne
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the best books I've ever read. ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rebecca Solnit, and this book in particular, is an American Studies major’s dream.
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Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I loved it!
Mary Mosley
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
So much good information in this book. She really did a lot of research on our idea of landscape and how it's changed over time. ...more
Peter Feer
Dec 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting book!
Mark Valentine
Aug 19, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best writers about the significance of Place, Solnit's account of the torrid turf battles in the western States and the legacy of testing nuclear weapons informed my mind and my soul. ...more
Gail Kennon
Oct 28, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
solnit is a wonderful guide through some of the saddest pieces of american history in the west. she offers so many insights and thoughts to ponder on justice and truth..nature and our place in it.
Curtis Anthony Bozif
This book was an great read. It was my first Solnit book. I understand now why she's having a moment. I finished this book days before leaving for another tour of the Southwest. I've been fascinated with the American West my whole life, but I've only began to seriously read about it in the last few years. The history, the mythology, the people, contradictions. Thus far, Savage Dreams, contains some of the most insightful, subtle, and sensitive writing about these topics. It was one of those book ...more
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and very informative. I was particularly struck by the fact that the natives had used burning to take care of the land. We have been told so long that the land fared best when no one at all had lived on it. Turns out that's just not true, and for me that was heartening to hear. It isn't the earth vs. man; it's the earth AND man working together that gets the best results. They need each other. ...more
WM Rine
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Solnit's gift and genius is tying together strands from history, art, culture, the environment is surprising and profound ways. Here she explores the United States' war on the people and land that are in what we draw as blank spaces on the map and which are anything but empty, through the specific lens of the Nevada nuclear test side where nearly a thousand nuclear explosions were set off between the 1950s and 1990s. In part 2, the book shifts to Yosemite Valley and the way Californians have liv ...more
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
So I read this book for a class on Environmental Literature at grad school. I started it in Boise, but didn't get into it for the first 70 pages or so, but then got really hooked. It's a brilliant book, a kind of non-fiction novel of ideas that is well researched, smart, perceptive, and really self-aware. It's essentially two books, the first longer part is about the Nevada test site and the history of nuclear bombs and the United States. The second shorter half presents the buried history of th ...more
Jul 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Solnit takes on a plethora of topics in her attempt to understand the place of the American West in the American psyche. The book focuses on two landscapes (the Nevada Test Site and Yosemite National Park) on her journey through two hundred years of history that relies on framing American expansion as the discovery of new lands and paradise and not the annihilation of resident native populations. Most fascinating for me was the discussion of the Euro-American idea of nature and wilderness that b ...more
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is by a local Northern California gal. The first half of the book is about the fascinating history of the Nevada Test Site, the author even visits the site where the first nuclear bomb was dropped there (and darn its not open to the public). The second half of the book is about the history of Yosemite. So in essence a discussion of man-made heaven and hell. Very facinating, great research, good nature writing with a fresh philosophical bent.
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Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering  and walking, hope and disaster, including Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Cinderella LiberatorMen Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in ...more

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