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.