Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor
Arizona: A History.
By Thomas E. Sheridan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995. Bibliographic essay. Illustrations. Index. 434 pages. $50.00 (clothbound). $24.95 (paperback). Buy this book.
Thomas Sheridan has written a comprehensive history of Arizona that is a skillful blending of good narrative and insightful analysis. He introduces his history with a survey of Arizona’s prehistory, and then proceeds to recount the documented history of that state from the earliest Spanish expeditions in the sixteenth century up to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. The historical drama that he has scripted for the intervening four centuries emphasizes the roles played by the Indian Wars, railroads, cattle, mining, water resources, climate, and the federal government.
While Sheridan has arranged the sequence of the topics he discusses in a broadly linear fashion, his overarching interpretive framework is that the history of Arizona’s development, from “wilderness to civilization,” is not linear. Rather, he argues, “it is a series of advances and retreats, accommodations and blunders, booms and busts” (xiv). To buttress this interpretation, Sheridan organizes Arizona’s history into three major phases–incorporation (the integration of people within the state, and the state within the nation), extraction (the exploitation of the state’s natural resources), and transformation (the development of the state’s sunbelt society).
There are several minor flaws in the book, most notably the absence of any source citations (although the author does provide a comprehensive bibliographic essay) and his superficial coverage of the Spanish and Mexican periods (a subject to which he devotes only ten per cent of his text). But these deficiencies detract little from an otherwise impressive study. Sheridan’s lucid and lively writing style, together with his provocative interpretations, make this book a highly recommended reading to anyone with an interest in the American Southwest.
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