Culture

History of California – Kevin Starr

This pleasant but superficial overview looks at California history from today’s perspective – it’s not a recounting of everything that happened, but of those things that “had to happen in order that California become what it is today.”

Audible Audiobook | Amazon

While useful as an organizing tool, this vantage point tends to give the book a triumphalist tone, where whatever negative events happened were necessary in order for California to fulfill it’s (American capitalist) destiny.

The book is strongest on issues like the development of the water infrastructure, where it recounts in detail how the North and South halves of the state grappled with this thorny issue. Chapters on the growth of San Francisco and Los Angeles, including a quick history of automobile traffic, are solid and entertaining.

Starr offers good coverage of early politics, including land-grabs and railroad scams. But he scants the role of the original Peoples of the regions – presumably because they were not strictly necessary to the destiny of the state.

Likewise, he gives a good, quick survey of architecture – but scarcely mentions that the raw materials were obtained virtually for free by decimating the redwood forests, with unforeseeable environmental impacts on today’s California.

Perhaps most offensive is his celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge as a masterpiece comparable to the Parthenon. Given that over 1000 people have committed suicide from the bridge, we’re left wondering what exactly constitutes a Californian masterpiece?

Three stars for Kevin Starr – with hopes that a more thorough and balanced history of the state is recorded soon.

Wix-KevinStarrCalifornia-Cover

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s