Dirty Wars


Dirty Wars

Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature

John Beck

Postwestern Horizons Series

378 pages


December 2009


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2009


$55.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Since World War II, the American West has become the nation’s military arsenal, proving ground, and disposal site. Through a wide-ranging discussion of recent literature produced in and about the West, Dirty Wars explores how the region’s iconic landscapes, invested with myths of national virtue, have obscured the West’s crucial role in a post–World War II age of “permanent war.”
In readings of western—particularly southwestern—literature, John Beck provides a historically informed account of how the military-industrial economy, established to protect the United States after Pearl Harbor, has instead produced western waste lands and “waste populations” as the enemies and collateral casualties of a permanent state of emergency. Beck offers new readings of writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Leslie Marmon Silko, Don DeLillo, Rebecca Solnit, Julie Otsuka, and Terry Tempest Williams. He also draws on a variety of sources in history, political theory, philosophy, environmental studies, and other fields. Throughout Dirty Wars, he identifies resonances between different experiences and representations of the West that allow us to think about internment policies, the manufacture of atomic weapons, the culture of Cold War security, border policing, and toxic pollution as part of a broader program of a sustained and invasive management of western space.

Author Bio

John Beck is a senior lecturer in American literature at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. He is the coeditor, with David Holloway, of American Visual Cultures and the author of Writing the Radical Center: William Carlos Williams, John Dewey, and American Cultural Politics.


"This meticulous, well-informed study should prove valuable to multiple fields, including American and western American literatures, American studies, and ecocriticism."—S. K. Bernardin, CHOICE

"Dirty Wars is a profoundly ambitious book showcasing John Beck's considerable scholarly and critical abilities."—Bill D. Toth, Western American Literature

"Dirty Wars should be of interest to readers in a variety of specialties, not only contemporary American literature but also environmental history, military history, Western history, cultural studies, and, of course, American studies."—Michael L. Johnson, American Studies

Table of Contents

Introduction: Dirty Wars
1. The Purloined Landscape
2. The Prehistory of the Permanent War Economy
3. Dust Breeding: Narratives of Inter(n)ment
4. Learning from Los Alamos
5. Gridlocked and Homeless
6. Loomings: Dread in West Texas
7. After Nature: Gothic Contamination
8. After Nature Writing
9. The West as Cold War Museum
10. The Fringe of Empire
Conclusion: Endless War


Winner of the 2010 Thomas J. Lyon Book Award from the Western Literature Association

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