75 Books, Books #8-11

Books #8 & #9 were books relating to a future Segundo podcast.

Book #10 was a book relating to a future Segundo podcast.

Book #11 was Kevin Starr’s California: A History, part of the Modern Library Chronicles series. Starr is best known for his mammoth work Americans and the California Dream, an invaluable series of books that are quite meticulous in their pursuit of California history from 1850 onwards. What makes Starr’s books so enjoyable is that, beyond their gushing and spirited quality, Starr takes great care to concentrate on labor history and minorities in addition to the heavy-hitters. I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping that he manages to complete this series before his death. (The years 1951-1989 remain to be filled in.)

This comparatively slim volume finds Starr attempting a one volume history from the Bear Flag Revolt on. And the result sometimes feels a bit rushed, if only because there’s a lot of information here to cram into 350 pages. Figures and incidents are introduced with very little fanfare. (Thank goodness there’s an index to keep track of the frequent entrances and exeunts.) One reads this finding Starr just dying to break out of the confined form and riff on political figures, reluctantly placing himself in the position of precis-wrangler. While I was familiar with many of the colorful characters from other volumes, the book’s truncated form precludes Starr from offering his fiery commentary (and even his obsession with age takes a back seat). Or to put it another way: There are some writers who are intended to write lengthy books and some who are not. Starr definitely fits into the former category. I read this book hoping for morsels from the missing years and was a bit disappointed to see Governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan largely unremarked upon, although Starr does demonstrate the historical arcs of California’s obsession with technology.

Which is not to suggest that California is without merit. As Starr gets closer to the present day, his depictions of California as a land of health and a land of promise begin to kick in. And for anyone requiring a refresher course on California history or who wants a taste of Starr before delving into the California Dream series, the book is certainly worth a look.


  1. I haven’t read this yet but I saw Kevin Starr talk last week at the Bohemian Club, which was founded in 1872 as a meeting place for newspapermen and artists. Now, of course, it’s a club for elites.(Whitewater prosector Kenneth Starr was sitting at the table next to mine. I don’t think they are related). Anyway, Starr talked about the early artists of the club who were influential in creating a California esthetic. Downstairs there was an exhibit of the pictures.

    The guy is amazing. He can riff about anything and make it interesting. He does a great job of putting people in a historical context and making them come alive.

    He’s only 65 so I think he has the time to finish the other volumes on California.

  2. Franes: You’re a member of the Bohemian Club? Shocker! I had no idea!

    The guy is amazing and I have been making feverish efforts to get him on Segundo. He hasn’t returned my calls, in large part because I had to cancel the first interview.

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