Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West
Hal K. Rothman
Spur Award, Western Writers of America
The West is popularly perceived as America's last outpost of unfettered opportunity, but twentieth-century corporate tourism has transformed it into America's "land of opportunism." From Sun Valley to Santa Fe, towns throughout the West have been turned over to outsiders—and not just to those who visit and move on, but to those who stay and control.
“Intricately researched, wonderfully detailed, and profoundly disturbing.”
—American Historical Review
“An important book filled with cultural insights and a bold interpretive model.”
—H-Net ReviewsSee all reviews...
“Tourism has been vital to the economic health of the American West for most of this century. In a penetrating look at the social, economic, and psychological dynamics shaping the region's modern identity, Rothman demonstrates that the tourism industry has also exacted high costs from many of the communities that have become the West’s most popular travel destinations. As insightful and deftly argued as Robert Kaplan’s An Empire Wilderness and Timothy Egan’s Lasso the Wind, Rothman’s study traces the history of Western tourism from the late nineteenth century to the present, exploring in comprehensive and eminently readable detail the ways in which the tourist industry has shaped communities as diverse as Santa Fe, Aspen and Las Vegas.”
“This remarkable book is both instructive and entertaining. It should be of great interest to anyone who cares about the West and wonders why its best places seem to change so rapidly and so completely.”
“Devil’s Bargains is a breakthrough book. It becomes the starting point for all future studies of not only tourism but also Western identity and will be integral to discussions on colonialism in the West and Western development. It is valuable for both the range of the material it covers and the depth and nuanced analysis of its case studies, but it does much more than this. It creates a language and a structure for the study of tourism—neonatives, recreational tourism, cultural tourism—that will quickly be adopted by other scholars and structure their analysis. Should appeal to a wide popular audience.”
—Richard White, author of It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A History of the American West
“Once pillaged for its raw materials, the American West is now looted for its landscapes and historical auras. Giant resort and gaming corporations are rapidly transforming the canonical frontier into a neon theme park, pockmarked with casinos, prisons, trophy homes, and urban slums. Tourism, as Hal Rothman demonstrates in this brilliant and disturbing book, is the price of the land’s very soul.”
—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los AngelesSee fewer reviews...
Although tourism has been a blessing for many, bringing economic and cultural prosperity to communities without obvious means of support or allowing towns on the brink of extinction to renew themselves; the costs on more intangible levels may be said to outweigh the benefits and be a devil's bargain in the making.
Hal Rothman examines the effect of twentieth-century tourism on the West and exposes that industry's darker side. He tells how tourism evolved from Grand Canyon rail trips to Sun Valley ski weekends and Disneyland vacations, and how the post-World War II boom in air travel and luxury hotels capitalized on a surge in discretionary income for many Americans, combined with newfound leisure time.
From major destinations like Las Vegas to revitalized towns like Aspen and Moab, Rothman reveals how the introduction of tourism into a community may seem innocuous, but residents gradually realize, as they seek to preserve the authenticity of their communities, that decision-making power has subtly shifted from the community itself to the newly arrived corporate financiers. And because tourism often results in a redistribution of wealth and power to "outsiders," observes Rothman, it represents a new form of colonialism for the region.
By depicting the nature of tourism in the American West through true stories of places and individuals that have felt its grasp, Rothman doesn't just document the effects of tourism but provides us with an enlightened explanation of the shape these changes take. Deftly balancing historical perspective with an eye for what's happening in the region right now, his book sets new standards for the study of tourism and is one that no citizen of the West whose life is touched by that industry can afford to ignore.