29 Aug 2009

Book Reviews of Interest

"What Does It Mean to Be Efficient?" This reviewer says:
Jennifer Karns Alexander has undertaken the ambitious project of trying to demonstrate how the concept of efficiency changed, from being applied only to machines at first to being employed as a means to control human behavior. Although the basic thesis of this book is not new, her way of approaching the topic is quite unique. Instead of writing a theoretical piece or a comprehensive historical account of the evolution of this concept, she attempts to explain the evolution of the concept through six historical cases. Perhaps if she had selected her cases more carefully and justified the reasons for their selection, her work could have made a better contribution. Her reliance on cases that might be extreme and her failure to acknowledge the potential social benefits of some forms of control targeted at improving efficiency undermine the potential benefit of her work.
What about "Politics and Environment in the Silver State [Nevada]?" This review says:
Well-known Nevada historian James Hulse has focused his latest project on that state’s evolving environmental legacy. Hulse describes the history of Nevada’s resource economy, its close relationship to the land-hungry federal government, and its insatiable demands for water. The result is a highly readable, well-illustrated essay that offers state residents and a wider audience of westerners a penetrating look at the Silver State’s complex, highly politicized story of environmental change.

While Hulse notes the perspectives of many other western environmental historians such as Donald Worster, Marc Reisner, and Douglas Strong, this book is not a theory-rich foray into the drivers or the results of environmental change, but rather a more personal and historical essay that reflects the author’s familiarity with the particular people, stories, and political contexts of the Nevada setting. Because Hulse has been a long-time Nevada resident (and a professor of history at the University of Nevada-Reno), he has personally witnessed many of the events narrated in the book and he never hesitates to offer his own thoughtful interpretations about controversial issues and how they have played out within the state. Overall, the author often expresses an informed, if cynical view that private economic interests, a narrow-minded state government, and an uncaring federal bureaucracy have not traditionally placed a high value on the state’s environmental health.


  1. Thank you so much to the editors and Reviewer for not only this Review but the published work. It is a most welcome addition and does save myself from having to duplicate the work already done here. Research is not limited solely to this publication by any means. But reply instead of publishing relieves some burdens.

    My own family has a long history of association with Nevada and during this history, more recent in practice and experience, my own awareness of the problems in Nevada have become more extended and specific. From this should like to make a couple of comments upon this published volume by our neighbors to the North in the north half of the State.

    > "describes the history of Nevada's resource economy, its close relationship to the land-hungry federal government, and its insatiable demands for water."[Hulse]

    First, the character of Northern Nevada is quite different climate, and geography, from the Southern half of Nevada. I do think the Hulse' declaration of a land hungry federal government is overstated. Nevada's history as a sparse settlement area of the West, led the federal government to assume property rights over more than 70% of the land area within State boundaries. Others have written of discussed the reasons for this history. Declaring it a land hungry govt. does not describe the history accurately, though I would not declare upon Northern Nevada territory with any expertise or great knowledge. My own comes from the Southern reaches. This same thought applies to water resources.

    This is only a beginning point for what could be a wide ranging and highly detailed discussion. I find some points of common agreement, particularly in the attention given to recent population explosion. It was this which brought Nevada into particular focus and attention, riding as we did, upon is front wave or edge, beginning in the 1990s. Las Vegas was only somewhere less than 500,000 population before then and clear up to about 1995. After that year, it took off at a dizzying pace as more and more acres of desert land were turned into residential development by commercial companies seeking to build and house the expansion western population...........much of it spill over from California, where most of the land had already be developed and population issues and crunches were the normative standard. This remigration Eastward poured out onto the desert areas and Nevada, Las Vegas in force, pushing the City to a metropolitan area now exceeding 2 millions and only collapsing with the economic bubble burst in housing and the overall economy following 2007.

  2. [part 2]

    Now, it is become another sort of community with the highest mortgage default rate in the Nation and the oversupply of housing traditionally associated with economic boom and bust cycles brought on by private market practice and policies. Some of this could be seen coming on the horizon but not as it did hit in 2007. Water, due to the population spill, has been a major problem, in the south and now likely the north, as well as the desert environment which by definition is a land of scarce water resources.

    Colorado River problems with over population demands within the Western States, including Arizona and California, have driven down supplies for this growth in population to levels of major concern, with drought conditions for the last 6 or 9 years. The Lake Mead area has declined by some 60 feet at least in a Lake over 200 miles long and maybe 50 miles wide. Business and population loads have suffered and there is no present end which may yet bring upon rationing or the need to import other sources............one such is northern Nevada water as was done in California more than 40 years previous to sustain southern area population with northern area California water riches.

    These were do to errors in both govt. and private economy policies and views, underestimates on population and demands for services and resources.

    There is considerable more to be said about the Hulse Review here, but for now, this commentary should be enough, awaiting any further discussion and points given in the Review by list. Thank you again.

    Wyatt Reader
    UCLA__Whittier College
    Cal. Community Colleges//private--Instructor
    Las Vegas, Nevada*

    [* My family has owned Las Vegas land for more than 70 years dating to the building of Hoover Dam, while passing it along from one generation to the next. My grandfather bought early, in the late 20s or first couple of years during the 30s, while our land sat vacant for almost 50 years.]

  3. This commentary on human efficiency reminds me of Marx's theory. To summarize, he argued that a capitalistic society controlled by industrial machines would be create estranged human relationships. With that, I think it is critical to preserve the human essence in the workforce. To make workers feel valued, appreciated, and useful is important in the creation of efficient products. Although our society is moving in a direction that requires less human assistance in the workforce, it is important to sustain an element of human interactions for a progressive future. We are not going anywhere,s o why not utilize us to our maximum potential?


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