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MARCH 28, 2000: 

The Federal Landscape: An Economic History of the Twentieth-Century West by Gerald D. Nash (University of Arizona Press), paper, $17.95

Last night one of my co-workers saw this book and said sarcastically, "now that looks like an exciting read." While it's true that this may not qualify as exciting, in its own way, it is fascinating. If you ever stopped to look around your corner of New Mexico and wondered what came before you and what used to be here, this book has a wealth of answers. The West as we know it would simply not exist if not for the massive involvement of the federal government. The extent of that involvement is the subject of this book.

Water development projects, military bases, Indian reservations, national roadways, seaports, leases for grazing, National Parks -- all exist because of the federal government. Chapter by chapter, Nash shows how, over the past 100 years, development of the West has been shaped by the feds.

Nash remains neutral when it comes to the many philosophical issues which this development raises. At one point he writes, "Regardless of their rhetoric about individualism, Westerners wanted federal investment to build the infrastructure of their economy." But he's actually talking about 80 years ago. These days Westerners are more often heard griping about federal interference with their lives. After reading Nash's book, though, the extent to which the character of the West is due to that very interference becomes impressively apparent, and the silliness of the gripes equally so.

Look around you: We live in a federal landscape. -- Paul Bogard

The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk by Palden Gyatso (Grove Press), paper, $13

Since the 1950 invasion of Tibet, many have called for Chinese withdrawal and Tibetan independence. But more and more people repeat the sentiment without fully understanding the situation. Palden Gyatso's memoir makes huge strides toward bringing a sense of clarity to a complex situation.

Born in the village of Panam in 1933, Palden entered the monastery at age 12. At 17, he witnessed firsthand the sudden appearance of Chinese "officials," and over the next few years felt their presence and dominance expand. When resistance to Chinese control spread across Tibet, monks from many larger monasteries were identified as participants and reactionaries. Before long, monasteries across the country were being destroyed.

For 33 years, Palden Gyatso was held captive, transferred without explanation from one facility to the next, forced to work a variety of labors, tortured and questioned, and continuously "reeducated." The ordeal reads like a horrific fiction, spilling over with brutality and hypocrisy. Finally released in 1992, Palden knew that continuing surveillance by the Chinese would pose a threat to his associates in Tibet. With a supply of torture instruments smuggled along as illustration of his captors' actions, he made his way into Nepal and eventually to India, there finding an audience with the Dalai Lama who listened for only twenty minutes before saying, "You should write your story." For the millions of Tibetans still struggling for freedom and the thousands of prisoners remaining in Chinese prisons, it was a perfect piece of advice. -- Thane Kenny

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