The Skimmer

Book Review: Imperial by William T. Vollmann

Lukas Beck / The New York Times / Redux

Imperial By William T. Vollmann; Viking; 1,306 pages

Like a map with a scale of 1:1, Imperial is practically the size of the territory it describes: Imperial County, in southwestern California, right on the Mexican border. It's a bizarre book, but then, Imperial is a bizarre place. Home to such oddities as Slab City and the Salton Sea, it's an arid region caught in a cycle of convulsive agricultural booms and busts driven by massive irrigation projects and abetted by copious supplies of undocumented immigrant labor. A combination history book, documentary, autobiography and topographical survey, Imperial is Vollmann's obsessive, strangely engrossing...

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