Learn Your Las Vegas History With These Five Books

I’m moving to Las Vegas soon and want to hit the ground running. What five books would you suggest?

Smart idea. Those who come to Las Vegas to quietly and self-sufficiently disappear (retirees, for example) often discover exactly what they expected. But those who land in town chasing dreams or escaping transgressions often haven’t read the manual—and what they find here does little to sort their bank account or soothe their wounds, but rather exposes a harsh reality. There are hundreds of books about Las Vegas, dozens of them on my own library shelf. Here are five essential reads, plus a couple of bonus volumes:

Neon Metropolis (Hal Rothman, 2003): This broad history of Las Vegas through the 20th century, written by late respected UNLV history professor Rothman, combines facts and anecdotes to draw a solid picture of the development of Las Vegas, hitting all the obvious touchstones and upending a few others.

Sun, Sin & Suburbia (Geoff Schumacher, 2010): Whereas Rothman gives us a general history of Las Vegas as mythic El Dorado, author and journalist Schumacher leans heavily on New Vegas, the post-mob version of Sin City that emerged in the 1990s. This is essentially the city you’ll be moving to, so consider this book the most valuable.

The First 100: Portraits of the Men and Women Who Shaped Las Vegas (A.D. Hopkins & K.J. Evans, 2000): This essential compilation of brief biographies offers an accessible overview of those dreamers and doers critical to building Las Vegas, from explorers and entertainers to gamblers and good old boys. Understand the people and you’ll understand the city.

Water and the West (Norris Hundley, Jr, 2009): Focusing on the Colorado River Compact, Hundley explains the political struggles controlling our most valuable resource and the congressional instrument that delineates its allocation. Have time? Add Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner, 1993). You’ll need to settle in for the long haul—both are textbook-style reading.

Chronicles of Old Las Vegas (James Roman, 2011): After all that heavy lifting, it’s time for something lighter. Roman’s easy, Everyman take explores the city with history, anecdotes, photos and maps, creating a guidebook to the Las Vegas you may have heard about. Add Dick Odessky’s Fly on the Wall for first-hand tales of the city in its mobbed-up Rat Pack heyday.

Have a question or comment about Las Vegas past, present or future? Send them to askanative@vegasseven.com.