Providing a complete narrative of Nevada’s turbulent and often confrontational history, The Making of Modern Nevada offers readers an insight into the different elements that formed the state as we know it today. Beginning with the origins of the territory, such as its early occupants (the Southern Paiute), as well as its status as a trade route, Rothman’s book explains the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – political and economic decisions that formed Nevada’s unique character.
The Making of Modern Nevada was published posthumously alongside a further two titles, after Rothman lost the battle to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease, as it’s known in the US). A testament to Rothman’s productivity, in the Foreword to The Making of Modern Nevada, colleague David M. Wrobel relates how, one day, when seeing Rothman looking particularly happy, Wrobel asked: “’what’s so clearly brightened up your day?’ to which he responded ‘Don’t you love those two-book days, David?’”
Rothman’s fascination with the west and in particular, Nevada, led the author to publish a series of books on the topic, including the acclaimed Devil’s Bargains. However, it’s The Making of Modern Nevada which examines the birth and growth of Nevada as we know it today.
Throughout The Making of Modern Nevada, Rothman illustrates the relationship between Nevada, the Silver State and its golden cousin, California. In the early history of Nevada, the state was viewed by expeditions as “merely the harsh and barren reality that had to be crossed to reach that promised land (California).”
Running parallel to the state’s relationship with California is Nevada’s status within the rest of the United States. As Rothman lucidly observes in the book, from its inception, the needs of the visitor, and in some cases, even the rest of the country, have been put before Nevada’s often transitory population. This still seems to occur in the state, with Rothman deftly drawing subtle links between Nevada’s past status as the home of atomic testing, to the controversial (and now terminated) decision to house the nation’s radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain.
While much of Rothman’s narrative explores the lesser-known history of Nevada, there is of course ample reference to the state’s casino industry. The Making of Modern Nevada discusses the growth of gambling, from operating within a legal grey area and referring to itself as ‘gaming’, to Howard Hughes’ early-commercialisation of the state, culminating in a discussion about the new kinds of casino owners, in the forms of Steve Wynn and Kirk Kevorkian.
Ultimately, Rothman’s account of Las Vegas, and as a whole Nevada’s, tumultuous history is more balanced than other accounts. There is more of a focus on the economic and legal situations surrounding the mobsters that ran Las Vegas, rather than their respective personalities. The result is that Rothman produces a comprehensive account of a sensational era; the author appears to be more of a detached observer, as opposed to repeating personal anecdotes about the likes of Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel. Rothman’s approach gives equal weight to the emergence of Nevada as a trade route, territory and finally state, as well as its role in the 20th century.
When The Making of Modern Nevada reached its publishers, the University of Nevada Press, Rothman had attached a note that read: “I have become so sick so fast that I will not be able to finish the Nevada History...I would like you to find someone to finish the book. I really wanted to finish this one.” However, as David M. Wrobel observes in the Foreword, the publishers felt the book could (and does) stand on its own. Reading The Making of Modern Nevada, it’s clear that the book offers a complete, comprehensive account of the history of the Silver State, writing by someone who knew it inside and out. The result is a polished work, and illustrates just how Rothman will be missed by Nevada.