LAS VEGAS: SIN CITY, CAPITAL OF SECOND CHANCES, Entertainment Capital, Gambling Capital of the World. Las Vegas, the unlikely city that rose from the Mojave Desert to become a metropolis of supercasinos and megaresorts, has reinvented itself many times over.
The area's past, in some sense, is a microcosm of the history of the American West, its major events and figures condensed into one city: the early indigenous inhabitants and Spanish-Mexican explorers; the "conquest" by westward-moving pioneers; and massive government works like the Hoover Dam. It wasn't until the 1940s, when mob money started flowing into the region, that Las Vegas started to resemble the glitzy, larger-than-life city we love (and/or love to hate) today.
Although it looks back warmly on the old days, when mobsters sat in the corner office as the Rat Pack performed in the showroom, Las Vegas--the fastest-growing city in the United States--is a place moving forward. Its amusement parklike atmosphere and themed casinos drew more than 37 million visitors in 2010 alone. There may come a day when the megaresorts and supercasinos no longer appeal to the world's travelers, but Las Vegas will surely be ready to revamp itself again when the national whim dictates.
It's no wonder that Las Vegas has become fodder for writers hoping to capture its spirit and shenanigans. From literary fiction to dystopian vision, the recommendations below offer, much like Las Vegas itself, something for everyone.
Chronicles of Old Las Vegas (2011)
Exposing Sin City's High-Stakes History
By James Roman
Following in the footsteps of his 2010 Chronicles of Old New York: Exploring Manhattan's Landmark Neighborhoods, James Roman takes readers on a breezy, fascinating tour of the origins and evolution of Las Vegas--from a desert oasis frequented by Paiutes to its current incarnation as America's playground. The title is something of a misnomer, since Roman doesn't limit his research to the Old Las Vegas that most associate with the mob and the Rat Pack. Nevertheless, Roman's bubbly writing and nose for a good story turn Las Vegas history, from Mormon missionaries to Siegfried & Roy, into a lively romp through the last 200 years.
Living It Up and Doubling Down in the New Las Vegas
By Andres Martinez
In 1998, former Wall Street Journal reporter Andres Martinez took his publisher's $50,000 advance and headed straight for the casinos of Las Vegas, where over the course of a month, he divided his time between gambling and exploring everyday life both on and off the Strip. His witty prose and sharp insights bring the kooky characters (including a preacher working as a bathroom attendant in a strip club) and over-the-top attractions (erupting volcanoes and pirate ships in battle among them) of Las Vegas vividly to life. Part travelogue and part wacky sociology experiment, Martinez captures the fiercely individualistic essence of Vegas.
My Week at the Blue Angel (2010)
And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas
By Matthew O'Brien
For a sobering look behind the bright neon lights, turn to journalist Matthew O'Brien's compassionate firsthand account of the city districts that tourists never see. To gain access to the those living on the fringes of society, O'Brien immersed himself in their world, walking the streets at night, boarding in a dive motel, exploring the subterranean flood channels where scores of the homeless reside, and networking with the prostitutes, addicts, and ex-cons just beyond the reach of the city's eternal dream machine. O'Brien's equally forceful debut, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas (2007) takes readers even further underground.
SUPER CASINO: INSIDE THE "NEW" LAS VEGAS (2001) | PETE EARLEY BEYOND THE GLIMMERING LIGHTS: THE PRIDE AND PERSEVERANCE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN LAS VEGAS (2010) | TRISH GERAN POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET: MURDERERS, CHEETAHS, AND BINION'S WORLD SERIES OF POKER (2003) | JAMES MCMANUS
The Desert Rose (1983)
By Larry McMurtry
An aging but still beautiful Las Vegas showgirl, Harmony, has been abused and abandoned by the men in her life, but she could always take pride in...