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Happy 150th, Nevada


In October, Nevada will celebrate 150 years of statehood.

Leading up to that anniversary, there have been events, commemorations, the minting of silver and copper coins, and even the unveiling of a postage stamp in honor of the Silver State.

And now, there’s a book that captures Nevada in all her 150-year-old glory, from the state’s origins during the darkest time in American history, the Civil War, to the present day. Whether you’re a Nevada history buff or just getting to know the place, “Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State” is the book for you.

First, a bit of full disclosure: The book is the final one published by Stephens Press, a soon-to-be-defunct imprint formerly run by the parent company of the Review-Journal. I was asked to write two pieces for the volume, which I gladly did, but don’t let that dissuade you from checking it out anyway.

Besides, there are some truly great writers whose work appears in the book: Novelist H. Lee Barnes, attorney and former state Treasurer Patty Cafferata, author Sally Denton, UNLV history professor Michael Green, Desert Companion Editor Andrew Kiraly, novelist John Irsfeld, historian Dennis McBride, novelist Alissa Nutting, UNLV gaming professor David Schwartz, attorney Dayvid Figler, UNLV creative writing professor and novelist Doug Unger, freelance writer Stacy J. Willis, and my fellow Review-Journal scribes Howard Stutz, Doug Elfman, Matt Ward, Steve Bornfeld, John L. Smith and Mike Weatherford. It was edited by my friend and colleague Geoff Schumacher, who was assisted by my other friend and colleague, Scott Dickensheets.

In the nearly 300 beautifully illustrated pages, you’ll find everything from Abraham Lincoln’s letter admitting Nevada into the Union to Mark Twain’s sojourns here to Green’s fascinating account of how Nevada finally became a state. Although it’s published by a company located in the South, the book gives equal attention to Northern Nevada, from the Biggest Little City to biographies of founders such as George Wingfield, Pat McCarran and Francis Newlands.

Southern Nevada’s chapter includes everything from wedding chapels to the Hoover Dam, from atomic testing to Howard Hughes, from suburban sprawl to Laughlin. And the third part of Nevada, the rurals, gets its own chapter. (My colleague George Knapp’s look at Area 51 — complete with photos — is especially interesting.)

Nevada’s mining industry, railroads, casinos and construction all are featured, along with Nevada’s relationship with the military (the state is home to some of the best pilots in both the Navy and Air Force — the Navy’s “Top Gun” weapons school is located in Fallon, and the Thunderbirds are based at Nellis). And the industries of tomorrow, renewable energy and high-tech, make appearances as well.

Nevada and culture — not just movies, TV shows and the Rat Pack, Elvis and showgirls, but fine arts, literature, culinary arts and performing arts — all get their share of the spotlight, too. And sports, from boxing to football and basketball to the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics all have a place in Nevada. (You will be surprised at the large number of famous sports figures with Nevada ties.)

Struggles with water, with civil rights and economic inequality all are explored in the book. There’s even a piece about Nevada’s favorite gripe: how outsiders see us, penned by Missouri University of Science and Technology Professor Larry Gragg.

And scattered throughout are vignettes from top writers with personal stories about Nevada.

Nevada has been many things in her 150 years: a miner’s dream, a quickie-divorce capital, the center of the legalized gambling universe, a wide-open range, a testing ground for the most destructive weapons ever devised and a training ground for the best pilots America puts into the air, and, more than that, home for millions of people. “Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State” captures all of those things and more.

The book — which sells for $29.95 — will be officially released at 7 p.m. June 12 at the Clark County Library, with a panel discussion including Schumacher, Dickensheets, Figler and Green.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at www.SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.