Cadillac Desert

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cadillac Desert
Cover of the first edition
AuthorMarc Reisner
CountryUnited States
Published1986 (Viking Press)

Cadillac Desert (1986) is an American history book by Marc Reisner about land development and water policy in the western United States. Subtitled The American West and Its Disappearing Water, it explores the history of the federal agencies, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and their struggles to remake the American West in ways to satisfy national settlement goals. The book concludes that the development-driven policies, formed when settling the West was the country's main concern, have had serious long-term negative effects on the environment and water quantity. The book was revised and updated in 1993.

Topics discussed[edit]


In a review written shortly after the book was published, The New York Times described Cadillac Desert as "a revealing, absorbing, often amusing and alarming report on where billions of their dollars have gone - and where a lot more are going".[1]

The Property and Environment Research Center reviewed the book 25 years later, calling it a "masterpiece" and saying that it is "compelling today as it was on publication in 1986". It praised the research that went into work, calling out the interviews performed by Reisner to produce the book.[2]

Summit Daily News also praised Reisner's research and called out Reisner's framing of the Bureau of Reclamation as the "clear villain" and the Colorado River as its "most abused victim", ultimately calling the book "prophetic".[3]

Adaptations and representations in other media[edit]

A portion of the 1993 update was printed in the 1994 inaugural edition of the Hastings West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy.[4]

A four-part television documentary based on the revised book was produced in 1996 by KTEH, the PBS affiliate in San Jose, California.[5]

This book has been referred to in 21st-century fiction about the effects of climate change (so-called climate fiction), such as Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife (2015), a thriller set in the near-future. Several characters refer to Cadillac Desert as having anticipated the environmental decline they are living through. The physical book also plays an important role.[6] Claire Vaye Watkins refers to Cadillac Desert as a source in her acknowledgments for her novel, Gold Fame Citrus (2015).[7]


  1. ^ Hill, Gladwin (14 September 1986). "WHEN THE BILL FOR THE MARVELS FALLS DUE". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  2. ^ Mehan, G. Tracy (9 June 2011). "Cadillac Desert: A classic a quarter century later". Property and Environment Research Center. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  3. ^ Weatherbee, Karina (2 August 2014). "Book review: 'Cadillac Desert,' by Marc Reisner". Summit Daily News. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  4. ^ Marc Reisner, "Deconstruction in the Arid West," 1 West-Northwest 1 (1994)
  5. ^ Learmonth, Michael (June 1997). "Filling the Basin". Metroactive. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  6. ^ Vint, Sherryl (22 June 2015). "Excavating a Future". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  7. ^ Bourne, Michael (22 June 2015). "Apocalypse Now: Claire Vaye Watkins's 'Gold Fame Citrus'". The Millions. Retrieved 1 October 2015.