Cadillac Desert

By Marc Reisner,

Book cover of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Book description

"The definitive work on the West's water crisis." --Newsweek

The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and…

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. (learn more)

Why read it?

5 authors picked Cadillac Desert as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Water, water everywhere—but not in the American West. I first read Reisner’s book soon after its publication in 1986, when it presented a haunting, frightening future for the western United States that is being realized today. The book reveals the inadequacy of the management of water in the western states that began as soon as there was settlement, and it takes an especially hard look at the treaties surrounding the Colorado River, which has all but disappeared in the past few years, causing panic at the Hoover Dam and in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Mexico. Reisner amply demonstrates why major…

“In the west, it is said, water flows uphill towards money.” With that line, Marc Reisner captures all of the absurdity of the economic development of the arid lands west of the 100th meridian. First published in 1986, Cadillac Desert remains indispensable in understanding the hubris, greed, and stupidity that has marked so much of that development. Exhaustively researched and reported, and seasoned with the perfect amount of moral indignation, it is timeless. With the water crisis only deepening as climate change brings devastating droughts—reservoirs are at record lows and the Colorado River runs dry long before it reaches…

From Jonathan's list on nature, culture, and the modern world.

In a class by itself, Marc Reisner's life-work here is the ultimate story of water in the West. It's an understatement to say that this seasoned author made history accessible. He made it compelling and fascinating, conveying an urgent sense of its importance to us all. Disclaimer here: this is not a book about the essence of rivers, but rather about the development of them for irrigation and water supply in the West. Along the way, however, the dots get connected between what we must cherish in flowing water and what we have done to eliminate it.

From Tim's list on rivers and the life they create.

Reisner’s book about western water history is must reading for people living in the western US. Because of what it relates about that history, I tell people thinking about moving to California, “Bring your own water with you in a bucket.” Written in 1986, Reisner’s apocalyptic missive is beginning to play out in these days of climate change and global warming. We are being told to phase out fossil fuels and turn to electric cars and all-electric homes just when two of the west’s major sources of electric power, Diablo Canyon’s nuclear power is being phased out, and Lake Mead’s…

From Arthur's list on exploration of the American West.

If there is a book more timely, I cannot think of it. This was published in 1986, and the story of the American West and its water crisis had grown ever more urgent. This book is insistent, astonishing, and should scare the shit out of modern readers--and infuriate them. The business of water is not a pretty one. The tension between development (cadillac) and nature (desert) is on full display in this farsighted book.

“In the west, it is said, water flows uphill toward power and money.” Marc Reisner

From Toni's list on badass geology books.

Want books like Cadillac Desert?

Our community of 6,000+ authors has personally recommended 10 books like Cadillac Desert.

Browse books like Cadillac Desert

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in political corruption, the American West, and public policy?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about political corruption, the American West, and public policy.

Political Corruption Explore 28 books about political corruption
The American West Explore 100 books about the American West
Public Policy Explore 50 books about public policy