20 from 20: Our favorite books of the past 20 years


Editor's note: Had your fill of year-end and end-of-decade lists? Here's something you probably haven't seen yet a list of favorites from the first 20 years of the current century. That's right, we're a fifth of the way through the 2000s, so to mark the occasion (and because we're between print issues of Las Vegas Weekly at the moment), for the next few days we'll highlight some of our favorite books, albums and TV shows from 2000-2019, a period that roughly coincides with the history of the Weekly itself. Enjoy, and look for our new issue on racks around town starting on January 9.

The last two decades have been a transformative time for Las Vegas, and the literature about this unique metropolis certainly reflects that. From fact to fiction, here are our favorite reads about our favorite city and, sometimes, our favorite state.

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (2012) An award-winning short-story collection by the Nevada author explores the quirks and pains of life in the Desert Southwest

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock (2008) Publishers Weekly called this debut novel by Las Vegas-born author Bock a "wide-ranging portrait of an almost mythically depraved Las Vegas."

Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker by Doug J. Swanson (2015) Discover the thrilling and tawdry history of a Sin City founding father. It also includes the origin of the World Series of Poker.

Dragonfish by Vu Tran (2015) Armed with a Ph.D from UNLV, Tran wrote this genre-defying noir based in Las Vegas and dealing with the immigrant experience.

Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show by Richard Zoglin (2019) Because there's nothing more Vegas than Elvis. And this well-appointed book does justice to the King.

Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg (2014) A Chicago mob hitman goes undercover as a Las Vegas rabbi in this exciting and darkly funny crime novel by sometimes Las Vegas Weekly contributor Goldberg. It's followed by the 2017 sequel Gangster Nation.

Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas by David G. Schwartz (2013) The mad-genius creator of both Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, the late, great Jay Sarno is somehow still mostly forgotten. Rediscover a true Vegas visionary with this masterful and entertaining history.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) This dark, sprawling tale won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A portion of it takes place in the wild edges of Vegas suburbia. Even if you don't agree with her depiction of our town 100%, she's an author who really tried to get it right—and mostly did.

Las Vegas Writes anthologies edited by Scott Dickensheets & Geoff Schumacher (2009-2019) For 10 years and counting, Nevada Humanities has sponsored this annual collection of Las Vegas voices. It's been mostly fiction and non-fiction, with a little poetry added of late. Sometimes, it'd be one or both editors. But the product has always been great. Collect 'em all!

The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America by Sally Denton and Roger Morris (2002) In a starred review, Publishers Weekly describes this deeply researched book as a "jolting investigative history" that's "undeniably disturbing and engrossing."

The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin (2006) Nevada musician Vlautin wrote this debut novel about rural Nevada ne'er-do-wells, and it was turned into a 2012 film starring Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson. Read it when you feel like venturing beyond the limits of Clark County.

Motel Vegas by Fred Sigman, Phyllis Needham, et al. (2019) This book gives loyal Las Vegans what they really want: gorgeous photographs documenting Old Vegas motels and their distinctive signs.

Nevada: A History of the Silver State by Michael S. Green (2015) Most of us are Vegas imports, so we probably didn't benefit from years of Nevada history in school. Catch up on lost time by reading Green's comprehensive tome.

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death by Colson Whitehead (2014) A couple years before publishing his Pulitzer-winning novel The Underground Railroad, Whitehead wrote this dark and clever little memoir about playing poker in Las Vegas, which the Washington Post describes as "a charming jumble."

The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream by Stefan Al (2017) A Dutch Urban Design professor takes on the evolving architecture of the Strip--from neon to family Vegas to contemporary luxury. "Al's Las Vegas is a story of the American national identity, and once you've bought in, this compulsive read won't lose you a dime," says Publishers Weekly.

Strip Search by Albert Watson (2010) What happens when an acclaimed Scottish fashion photographer heads to Vegas to make some art? This two-volume set of gorgeous, very sexy images. It's not quite the Vegas you know, but it is the Vegas you wish you knew.

Sun, Sin & Suburbia: The History of Modern Las Vegas, Revised and Expanded by Geoff Schumacher (2015) More than just the Strip, this history encompasses the boom-and-bust of Las Vegas, including World War II industry and the Great Recession.

Where We Live comic anthology (2018) More than 150 writers and artists—including both literary stars and locals—came together to create this benefit comic anthology for the October 1 survivors by star publisher Image Comics.

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (2014) This touching debut novel by a CSN English teacher tells the interlocking story of four Las Vegas narrators. Make this your next book club pick.

Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas by Christina Binkley (2009) How did Las Vegas become a dazzling city of mega casinos? Award-winning business and culture journalist Binkley charts our recent past.

Honorable Mentions: Cold Deck: A Novel by H. Lee Barnes (2013); The Book on Vegas with an intro by Dave Hickey (2006); Street Art Las Vegas by William Shea, Patrick Lai, Phyllis Needham and Ed Fuentes (2019); About a Mountain by John D'Agata (2010).

Photo of C. Moon Reed

C. Moon Reed

C. Moon Reed never meant to make Las Vegas her home, but she found a kindred spirit in this upstart ...

Get more C. Moon Reed
  • “We need one another, and we need to rely on and depend on and support one another,” she says. “I hope the book encourages them ...

  • For its 20th anniversary, the October event has announced an outstanding literary lineup.

  • What else were you gonna do, make sourdough bread?

  • Get More Print Stories
Top of Story