Michael Green's book, Nevada A History of the Silver State, is newly published by the University of Nevada Press and available in signed editions at Sundance Books. Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor, has previously published three books on the Civil War, co-authored Las Vegas: A Centennial History and wrote the middle school text Nevada: A Journey of Discovery. He is now working on a history of the Great Basin in the 20th century.
Myron Angel wrote a History of Nevada in 1881. Why do we need another one?
Not much has happened since 1881. Although, in a lot of ways some things are still the same. You have one industry largely dominating the state. You’ve got an immigrant population having an impact. You’ve got one part of the state, in theory, dominating the state economically and politically—though it doesn’t always seem to do that politically, at least. And you still have a mining industry that’s very vibrant. You still have a few people in charge. So not a lot of things had changed, you might say. But, you know, Jim Hulse had done The Silver State back in '89, revised it a bit, but a lot of other things have happened since that I thought needed doing—though I have to admit, I liked Myron Angel.
What was the toughest part of doing the book?
The toughest part of doing the book—for some people it would be the admission of ignorance—discovering how little I know. But really it was related to how little is known, how little has been written about the state. We've been lucky in a lot of ways. A lot of good books have been written. There's been a lot of good research. There are plenty of materials. But there are still so many other things we need, so many other things we need to know. Reno is a great example of this. In terms of scholarship, you have Alicia Barbers' book [Reno's Big Gamble, 2008], which is great. Now, at the same time, there are things she is not interested in getting in that book. That's fine. But do you have, beyond that, a history of Reno you turn to for the background on the city? Not really. And then you think of the other towns and cities where there might be some stuff, but there isn't as much scholarship as would be nice to have. That was tough. The other thing … compressing all of this stuff and then looking at it and saying, “Oh, now, I left this out.” “Oh, no, I didn't do enough on this.” And I suspect every author goes through it. I've gone through it with other stuff I've written, so maybe it isn't that different.
I think the first professional historian we got in this state was Russ Elliott. That was in the 1950s. Did we lose a lot before that happened?
I think we lost a lot of material and information. We can be grateful for Jeanne Weir. She was gathering material for the historical society. And there were other repositories like … the Huntington Library. But there is material that just went away. … And we suffered, I think, for the lack of professional historical writing.
That was more what I was getting at. Essentially, our history was being written by clubwomen.
You had clubwomen. You had Effie Mona Mack, who did some great things and made some horrible errors. You also had what they call the mug histories [history books in which local leaders paid for profiles of themselves with head-and-shoulders “mug” pictures] like Myron Angel. Thomas Wren isn’t as good as Myron Angel. Sam Davis really isn’t as good. Scrugham isn’t. You had outsiders like Richard Lillard, Desert Challenge . Desert Challenge is a fine book. He did an excellent job. But it helps to be in the state and really to have access to the sources, which Russ did and did a great job with it [History of Nevada, 1972].