Researching and writing about infrastructure is a tall task. Infrastructure’s vastness, complexity, and, if it’s functioning, invisibility can defy narratives. Andrew Needham, however, succeeds...

Researching and writing about infrastructure is a tall task. Infrastructure’s vastness, complexity, and, if it’s functioning, invisibility can defy narratives. Andrew Needham, however, succeeds beautifully. His book, called Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (Princeton University Press, 2016), tells the important and dramatic story of how the creation and development of a regional energy system linked Southwestern metropolitan and rural spaces. The book, Needham writes, “constructs a broad new map of postwar urban, environmental, and political change.”

Needham shows how that system produced and concealed geographic inequality. Post-World War II Southwest cities depended on abundant cheap energy, namely coal, and the primary source was far away in the Navajo lands. In addition to fueling the rapid metropolitan development, those lands also absorbed the majority of the energy system’s pollution. In other words, while city-dwellers and suburbanites consumed cheap energy, the Navajo bore the brunt of the ecological costs. The book would be of interest to urban historians, environmental historians, Native American studies scholars, historians of technology, and anyone wanting to engage in discussions of inequality and ecology.


Dexter Fergie is a first-year PhD student of US and global history at Northwestern University. He is currently researching the 20th century geopolitical history of information and communications networks. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @DexterFergie.

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