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Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915 Paperback – December 4, 1986

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195042337 ISBN-10: 0195042336 Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Highly readable....The book is full of surprises, it is constantly challenging....A fine performance."--Pacific Historical Review

"[Starr] is bringing much to Western social and literary history."--American Historical Review

"One devil of a fine book, a book only a native Californian could write...about the Inner Life of California, the psychic landscape that emerges from the works and ways of her writers, both native and self-adopted. The result is a mature, well-proportioned and marvelously diverse (and diverting) study."--The New York Times Book Review

"A very important book."--Joseph H. Krause, California State University, Long Beach

"Indispensable...Starr's book does for California what Henry Nash Smith's 'Virgin Land' did for the opening of the West: it demonstrates how idea, myth, misconception and hope shaped and often distorted a developing society."--Los Angeles Times

"A vivid portrayal of the rich and varied intellectual forces which helped shape one of our most distinctive regional cultures."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"An exceptional work, both in thought and magnitude....Both scholars and laymen will find this volume a worthwhile addition to their libraries."--History: Reviews of New Books

"A highly original inquiry into the interplay of vision and event.'"--Virginia Quarterly Review

"A captivating narrative that documents the importance of myth and imagination in attracting Americans to California before World War I."--R.H. Limbaugh, University of the Pacific

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Product Details

  • Series: Americans and the California Dream
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 4, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195042336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195042337
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.3 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rafael R. Costas Jr. on April 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Having lived in CA since I was 15 and not being able to imagine living somewhere else, I thought this volume is a must-read for all Californians, whether born here or "naturalized". Being specifically a San Francisco resident, this book shed more light on the history of this city's beginning and "teenage years" than any other source I have come across. Here you will not just read facts about people like Jack London, Frank Norris, John Muir, John C. Fremont and Richard Henry Dana. You will learn what they contributed to the idea of California and their influence on what this state has turned out to be, for good or bad. You will also learn of lesser-known figures such as Thomas Starr King, Thomas Jordan, Isidore Duncan all of whom were immensely powerful figures in their day, but hardly known today by the average Californian. The writing got a little ploddy at the end for me. Maybe I was just tired. Until I got to the last two chapters, I would have given it a 5 score, mostly on the criteria of how much I learned from it. I look forward to reading the next few volumes.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on January 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
As a native Californian (San Francisco) I read this book after seeing it cited again and again as an excellent entry point for a study of California history.
I was not disappointed. I believe this book is widely acknowledged as a classic in the field of California history, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with that judgment.
Prof. Starr attempts to illuminate the psychology of early California by providing mini-biographies of important California residents. These biographies are linked together by several recurrent themes. It is these themes that provide the thesis (theses?) of the book.
The themes are: The dark side of the optomism which characterizes the "California" personality; the harsh conflict in early times which affected the development of a Californian "civilisation" and the melding of cultures (Mexican and Californian, Northern and Southern) that produced Californian culture.
Starr focuses more on cultural rather then economic or political figures. Starr also shows a fondness for somewhat Freudian explanations for behavior (repressive parents, absent parents, neglectful parents). Given the age of the book (1975) it's hard to quibble with the inclusion of a perspective tilted towards psychological explanation.
On the whole it was a worthwhile read, and not too dense either. Recommended for those interested in the history of California and it's culture.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Daniel A. Lizotte on November 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
Kevin Starr has written a fantastic book. In Americans and the California Dream the reader is introduced to the giants of the age--Herbert Hoover, Leland Stanford, David Star Jordan, John Muir, John C. Fremont, etc. I also loved the fact that he included the lessor known personalities as well. Mr. Star clearly relates the truth behind all the myth and romance with regards to the Gold Rush. While Bret Harte is thorougly debunked, Starr acknowledges that the Gold Rush continues to hold the lure and romance that it always possessed. Anyone who wishes to be introduced to the wonderful history of California must read this. I will immediately purchase the second book of the series.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jon L. Albee VINE VOICE on November 22, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Starr's cultural history of California is more institutional history than anything else, which is not a bad thing if you like foundation studies. At the core of the book is the story of how enterprising and eccentric New Englanders attempted to tranfer their native civilization, with all its European imagery, to a new "city on the hill" at San Francisco. It's full of dates and events surrounding the history of colleges and churches and the people who founded them. One can easily sense Starr's interest in intellectual history as reflected in architecture, education and organized religion which, ironically, is a very East-coast way of looking at West-coast culture. Starr's book is excellent if you like that sort of thing, but it's not as tempting a study for those more fascinated with flesh and bone than brick and stone. Some could claim that it misses the fundamental essense of California culture altogether; a "new" civilization unencombered by pedigree and moulded by a beautiful and oppressive geography. This first book of the series is heavily centered around San Francisco and its related institutions.

Criticism aside, Dr. Starr's skill as a narrative historian is remarkable, and he should be considered in the same company as Henry Adams and Daniel Boorstin.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Craig Chalquist, PhD, author of TERRAPSYCHOLOGY and DEEP CALIFORNIA on July 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
There are two good places to start if you want to know the history of California: the work of Carey McWilliams and this book. Starr really did his homework, and the range of detail is amazing. Like McWilliams, he knows how to tell a story, and he usually has the back-stage lore on whatever public events he describes in his lucid and very readable prose. That a fact or two occasionally get out of place (the San Diego Mission was not founded by Father Altimiri but by Junipero Serra; and San Antonio de Padua is actually in Monterey County) does not diminish the power or scope of this worthy book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Chapel on May 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I have read so far only the first five chapters so my review may change after I get to the end. My disappointment is basically that this book does not tell me what happened, in what order things happened, or even who made things happen. Instead it goes into detail about what people thought about what was happening. I wanted to learn about the Mexican establishment of the missions, how and why Americans occupied and conquered the territory, and settlement. Starr often refers to the "conquest", but never says anything as to how it took place, where and by whom.
This is not to say that Starr has written a poor book. It's just more of a touchy-feely recitation of memoirs that are rather boring and not of much interest to me.
Subjects are in vaguely chronological order, though its not unusual to jump around by twenty or thirty years.
It is not a general comprehensive history of the state during the years 1850-1915. After five chapters I still don't know anything about the "conquest", nor do I know when California became a state. Instead the author refers to these things as having happened, in passing.
I would think the book would be valuable to readers wanting to gain insight into the sociological and even emotional status of early residents. Those readers will perhaps have more patience than I did wading through a fair amount of psychobabble.
August 2014: Now that I have finished the book my opinion has not improved. I really had to drive myself to finish reading all of it. There is a good long chapter on the founding of Stanford University, but little on Stanford himself. Another chapter devoted to Gertrude Atherton, novelist and a chapter on Jack London. There is a fair amount on architecture of the period.
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