The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991

Book Reviews

Hoover Dam: An American Adventure. By Joseph E. Stevens. (Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. Pp. ix+326. Preface, map, il-
lustrations, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95.)
Although Hoover Dam is his first book, Joseph Stevens already dis-
plays the sophistication and practiced hand of a veteran writer. On
nearly every page, he demonstrates his ability to turn out skillfully
wrought narrative history. Lively vignettes and pen portraits, appeal-
ing mini-biographies, balanced segments of action and description, apt
turns of phrase, modulated uses of conflict, and judiciously selected
quotes-they are all here and so artistically interwoven as to give this
history the flair and narrative power of a well-crafted adventure novel.
Beginning with an account of the combining of the Six Companies to
build Hoover Dam, Stevens then devotes chapters to initial stages of
construction, to financial leaders and construction bosses, to the estab-
lishment of nearby Boulder City, Nevada, to management-labor con-
flicts, and finally to pouring the concrete and completion of the mam-
moth structure. In each of these sections, Stevens centers on people,
scenes, conflicts, and achievements. He senses that general readers want
action and adventure and structures his story accordingly. His accounts
of the construction of the dam, his depictions of the foremen, his nar-
ration of conflicts between bosses and workers, and his delineation of
the social fabric of Boulder City are particularly appealing.
Stevens's book is based on thorough research, especially in news-
papers, construction and reclamation journals, and oral histories. From
these sources, the author has aptly extracted dramatic quotations, al-
lowing him to use anecdotes strategically and humorously. Strings of
strong verbs, appealing settings, and an occasional gory or lively detail
(for example, pp. 162 and 164) spice his story. In addition, his enter-
taining social history of Boulder City, "Under the Eagle's Wing," will
appeal to general and specialist readers.
Other readers may raise a few minor questions. For example, the au-
thor's use of pertinent manuscript records and interpretive works on
the twentieth-century West is less complete than his other research, and
he seems reluctant to utilize several important conceptions historians
like Earl Pomeroy, Richard Lowitt, and Gerald D. Nash have advanced
about the modern West. Sometimes his artistic renderings of action and
scene seem more imagined than documented, with these sections con-
taining too much dramatization and purple prose for less adventurous
historians. But these are minor problems.
In short, Hoover Dam will delight general readers and nearly all histo-
rians. Smoothly written, lively, and more than adequately researched,
the volume presents an appealing portrait of the building of a major

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed July 14, 2014.