Arizona: Its Land and Its People by Tom Miller, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker

The editor of this book is considered by many as one of the best nonfiction/travel writers in the country. Several of his books focus on the border, the Southwest, Cuba, and Latin America. He recently published his memoir, Where Was I? A Travel Writer’s Memoir about his illustrious career as a journalist, writer, and adventurer. He shared the impact of Parkinson’s on his writing, which tragically cut his life short.

The editor and I share an appreciation of iconic writer Moritz Thomsen, whom Tom met in Ecuador while researching for The Panama Hat Trail, one of my all-time favorite tales, and was impressed that the author made two trips over eight months to complete it! Tom provided the materials on Thomsen I used for a forthcoming book, Moritz Thomsen: The Greatest American Writer You Might Not Have Heard Of. My wife, who is Guatemalan, loved another one of his books, How I Learned English, a series of stories of Latinos learning English.

In conjunction with Arizona University Press, Miller brings together some of Southwest’s finest writers and photographers. Almost every second page includes a revealing and usually historical image and several helpful maps. He explores places that even residents might not be familiar with.

He starts with a geological overview of the state’s mountains, deserts, marshes, plateaus, and wildlife diversity. The geography’s common and unique characteristics are revealed in this description, which rings true for all desert dwellers: “Creosote bush blooms in the early spring and sometimes in the late summer. Its spindly, diffuse branches catch the light desert wind, giving the plant an airy appearance, and after a desert shower, its resins infuse the air with a crisp, musky aroma.” The fun fact is that it is one of the oldest living things on earth—up to 11,000 years old.

“The People” section reveals that the Navajo occupy the nation’s largest reservation with about 160,000 members with oil, gas, coal, and uranium reserves. Although by 1985, the unemployment rate was about 65%, and poverty among its members was widespread.

The discrimination against Mexican miners is well documented. They would receive $25-$30 a month for a 60-hour work week compared to $70 for Anglo workers, housing was segregated, and wages were paid in tokens that could be used only in company stories.

One of the most audacious examples of corporate lawlessness in Arizona history occurred in 1917—the Bisbee Deportation when 67 “Wobblies” ((Industrial Workers of the World”) were arrested by 200 vigilantes in Jerome, and with the police department and the United Verde Copper Company, rounded up and deported 67 Wobblies in railroad cars.  Some 1,186 strikers, shopkeepers, and sympathizers were packed into 234 boxcars and deported to Columbus, New Mexico.

Some of today’s conservativism and bigotry is tracked to the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan wielded considerable power, including the secretary of state, a state treasurer, Phoenix mayor, a superior court judge, a county sheriff, and a county attorney. Although the Klan declined, “its legacy lingered in segregated schools, restricted public facilities, miserable farm labor camps, and occasional outbursts of racial violence directed against Mexicans, Asians, Blacks, and Indians. Maricopa County became the conservative stronghold of an ever-more conservative state.”

Despite 37 years since this book was published, Arizona: The Land and the People will appeal to anyone interested in learning more about our state’s unique features and culture.  Miller summarizes the many changes in Arizona society over the years: “Weekend country-swing dancers wear western clothes, but in contemporary Tucson and throughout Arizona, even drugstore cowboys are getting hard to find.”

Miller wrote the text for the “Geotourism Mapguide: Arizona-Sonora Desert Region. Two States, Two Countries, One Heritage,” prepared in 2007 by National Geographic Maps, which is one of the best presented, informative, and colorful maps I’ve ever seen. You must see it to believe it:

The Author

Miller was born and raised in Washington, D.C., attended college in Ohio, and since 1969, lived in Arizona, 65 miles north of the Mexican border. He has written about Latin America and the American Southwest for over thirty years, bringing us extraordinary stories of ordinary people. His highly acclaimed adventure books include “The Panama Hat Trail” about South America, “On the Border,” an account of his travels along the U.S.-Mexico frontier, “Trading With the Enemy,” which takes readers on his journeys through Cuba, and, about the American Southwest, “Revenge of the Saguaro” (formerly “Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink,”  which won the coveted Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book of the Year in 2001). He has edited three compilations, “Travelers’ Tales Cuba,” “Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader,” and “How I Learned English.” Additionally, he contributed to the four-volume “Encyclopedia Latina.”

Miller, a veteran of the underground press of the late 1960s, has appeared in Smithsonian, The New Yorker, LIFE, The New York Times, Natural History, and many other publications. He wrote the introduction to “Best Travel Writing – 2005” and led educational tours through Cuba for the National Geographic Society and other organizations.

Well-traveled through the Americas, Miller taught writing workshops in four countries, and his books have been published in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. In recognition of his work, the University of Arizona Library has acquired Miller’s archives and mounted a major exhibit of the author’s papers, including Moritz Thomsen’s materials. He is affiliated with that school’s Latin American Area Center.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ University of Arizona Press; First Edition (September 1, 1986)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0816510040
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0816510047
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 95 pounds

The Reviewer

Mark Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s worked with groups like CARE and MAP International, Food for the Hungry, and Make-A-Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA.

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association. According to the Midwest Review, it “…is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery.”


His articles have been published in Ragazine and WorldView Magazines, Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Quail BELL. At the same time, the Solas Literary Award recognized two essays, including a Bronze award, in this year’s “Best Travel Writing” Travel Adventure category. Two of his pieces were winners at the Arizona Authors Association Literary Competition, and another was recently published in ELAND Press’s newsletter.  He’s a contributing writer for “Revue Magazine” and the “Literary Traveler.” His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter. He’s working on his next book, Moritz Thomsen, The Best American Writer No One’s Heard Of. He continues to produce a documentary on indigenous rights and out-migration from Guatemala, “Trouble in the Highlands.”  His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at


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