The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987 Page: 428
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
markable considering that he is dealing with a subject many scholars
strain to make unexciting. Worster utilizes novels and memoirs, espe-
cially those of women, to unusual effect, helping to illuminate the
human side of western water history. Throughout the work the author
challenges many of the established scholarly authorities, although
subtly and in a professional manner.
The book exhibits several annoying aspects. The author becomes a
bit too clever in places and vague in others. One wonders, what is an
"ur-motive" (p. 292)? When he writes of the California delta in one
place, it is not clear whether he refers to the San Joaquin-Sacramento
area or the Los Angeles region (pp. 290-291). Perhaps the chief quib-
ble with the work concerns the method used for citations. Short form
notes give only the author's name. Since there is no bibliography and
the original citation may be buried pages back, there is no easy way to
locate the full reference if one has not committed each footnote to
memory. Without a bibliography, the name of the publisher should
have been included in the footnote citations.
Worster's basic theme is that man cannot rule nature without being
ruled himself. He ringingly indicts the attitude that society can rely
solely on technology for solution to its problems, while condemning
man's hubris in thinking that he can totally control nature. Relating how
man's efforts to make the desert bloom often created more problems
than they solved in terms of water quantity and water quality, he notes:
"Hydraulic technology held out for a long time the illusion that it could
bring natural forces under absolute, tight, efficient control, but in truth
it multiplied the ways it could work its own demise" (p. 310 ).
As is so often true with historical analysis, the author is much clearer
in defining the problems than in providing answers. In some ways the
tone of the book is both crusading and moralistic-one is tempted to
say ethereal. He ultimately envisions a West not of materialism and
power but of reflection and the contemplative life. Worster seems to
present this possibility, which is a bit unrealistic in light of his own
analysis of American traditions, as a nostalgic hope rather than a se-
Worster poses as a universal issue the question of what balance should
exist in a society between the influences of technology and those of
democratic participation. In other words, how much should those with
technical knowledge be allowed to control a people's destiny? He ties
the development of a more democratic social order to more local con-
trol. Power has to be limited so that it cannot damage the environment,
he argues, since only concentrated power, corporate or governmental,
can ignore and overwhelm nature. Unfortunately, as Worster admits,
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987, periodical, 1986/1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117152/m1/494/: accessed December 11, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.