Blue Desert

Charles Bowden (Author), Francisco CantĂș (Foreword)
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Published in 1986, Blue Desert was Charles Bowden’s third book-length work and takes place almost entirely in Arizona, revealing Bowden’s growing and intense preoccupation with the state and what it represented as a symbol of America’s “New West.”

Bowden presents a view of the Southwest that measures how rapid growth takes its toll on the land. Writing with a reporter’s objectivity and a desert rat’s passion, Bowden offers us his trademarked craft and wit to take us into the streets as well as the desert to depict not a fragile environment but the unavoidable reality of abuse, exploitation, and human cruelty. Blue Desert shows us the darker side of development—where “the land always makes promises of aching beauty and the people always fail the land”—and defies us to ignore it.

In a thoughtful new foreword, Francisco Cantú writes, “In Blue Desert, we follow Bowden in the processes of becoming. We see the version of Bowden that he would likely most want us to remember—someone who did their best to be an honest witness, someone who was haunted by modernity and his place in it, someone who grappled with his demons by gazing deeply into the desert.” Blue Desert is a critical piece in the oeuvre of Charles Bowden, and it continues to remind readers of the cruelty and beauty of the world around us.
“Bowden is an engaging storyteller with a crazy quilt style of reporting and philosophy. . . . Blue Desert is a book that reads fast because it has bite. It is a book that says important things about the West. . . . Finally, it is a book that reaches beyond its geographical boundaries to remind us that wherever we are, changes to land and life affect us.”—Chicago Tribune

“You have this eerie feeling of being present in the Arizona desert, Bowden pointing the way. . . . [Blue Desert is] painfully engaging.”—Los Angeles Times

“An unconventional but enthralling picture of the frenzy of modern life and its victims. . . . A real gem.”—Kirkus Reviews

Blue Desert is a book both lively and elegiac, somber and entertaining.”—Edward Abbey

“Blue Desert is a work of excellence.”—Western American Literature
“Bowden’s anger, honed often to eloquence, is fueled by love and sadness, by unflinching curiosity and ironic hope. . . . His vision is clear, his language concrete, his message one more sermon in the wilderness.”—Western Historical Quarterly
“Funny, bitter, brutal, and full of contradictions—in short, the best book about what it’s like to live in the modern Southwest today. . . . Bowden knows that no matter how much we protest, we all take part in the plunder.”—Journal of the Southwest
“Bowden has the same rare quality of evoking our passions for harsh landscape as have Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, or Edward Abbey.”—Environmental Review

“The Blue Desert reader is taken on a fast and often disturbing ride through southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora. . . . At the end, we are left with a very different picture of the desert from the one we had before, and of ourselves.”—Journal of Arizona History

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