Las Vegas: An Unconventional History Review
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There’s just something about Las Vegas. Something glitzy. Something flashy. Something exciting. Something mysterious. Something classy. Yet, at the same time, something forbidden. In this book, the companion to the PBS American Experience documentary (which is available on DVD at, Michelle Farrari and Stephen Ives take a look at the history of 100-year-old Sin City.

It may come as no surprise that Las Vegas has a corrupt politician to thank for its beginnings. And from 1905 on, the city grew—thanks to a lenient state government, a lot of luck, and plenty of help from crooks, swindlers, and organized crime—and eventually became a place where the Average Joe could rub elbows with Joe Hollywood, where the average American housewife could escape the boredom and monotony of everyday life and suddenly feel rich and glamorous…and a little bit, well, naughty.

Las Vegas: An Unconventional History takes a look at Vegas through the last 100 years—from its start as a refueling stop in the middle of the desert to its growth as the gateway to the Hoover Dam to its reign as the infamous adult playground. While this coffee table book is loaded with pictures of the city’s history, it’s also a fascinating read. Inside its pages, you’ll read about the mobsters, the atomic bomb, and Howard Hughes. And essays interspersed throughout the book will give you a look at the world of poker, the thrill of Vegas, and the cool of the Rat Pack.

Since this is a picture-heavy coffee table book, however, keep in mind that there’s only so much the authors could fit in its pages. It’s definitely not an all-encompassing history, nor is it a gossipy look at the attractions and celebrities that have made Vegas what it is today. You won’t find any juicy stories about the criminals who built the casinos—or about the town’s well-known celebrities, like Elvis or Wayne Newton or Liberace (who make appearances in the book as little more than a photo and a caption). You won’t read about the things that happened behind closed doors or in the back alleys. But you will read about quickie weddings and quickie divorces. You’ll read about the town’s ups and downs. You’ll read about the new casinos that have always been bigger and better and glitzier than those that came before. And you’ll read all about the people and events that built the flashy neon oasis in the middle of the desert.

Anyone who’s ever been fascinated by Las Vegas and its glamorous-yet-seedy history will find this book captivating. It’s an interesting book to read—or just to flip through and look at the pictures.

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