The sixth volume in Starr's notable cultural history of California examines the decade that changed the largely agricultural state into a powerful national player in politics, defense, manufacturing and, of course, entertainment. State Librarian of California and University of Southern California history professor Starr opens with a broad-brush overview of the state on the brink of the U.S. entry into WWII. The chapters that follow are almost encyclopedic, detailing the curtailment of Japanese-American civil rights; California's wartime role in the defense industry; the career and political impact of Earl Warren; the rising number of minorities; the hunt for communists; and the growing cultural and economic power of Hollywood. All this happened amid the pursuit of the California dream. Starr writes, "the war had given rise to an intensified expectation of a better life." Dramatic profiles go some way toward bringing the history to life, but Starr doesn't have a particular flair for novelistic narrative, and in any case the crowded volume doesn't give him much room to stretch his storytelling muscles. Likewise, given the scope of the book, some subjects are addressed only briefly. Annotated lists of movies, for example, are meant to give a sense of the country's mood, but the effort feels hurried. While readers should not expect sustained analysis of any single subject, this ambitious book gives a broad, comprehensive overview of how the decade changed California ("Something vibrant, explosive, inchoate even, had entered the California experiment"), and how California in turn shaped the postwar destiny of the nation. 38 b&w photos not seen by PW.
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"The scope of Starr's scholarship is breathtaking; this is a social, economic, political, and cultural history that covers such disparate subjects as popular San Francisco restaurants, shipbuilding, changes in domestic architecture, Raymond Chandler's fiction, the roots of anti-Japanese sentiment, baseball's Pacific Coast League, and the rise of Richard Nixon."--Ben Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly
"This is ebullient, nuanced, interdisciplinary history of the grandest kind, drawing parallels and distinctions where perhaps no one ever thought to see them before. Starr's a born storyteller as well, mining a rich seam of anecdotal coal to animate the complex, enigmatic figures California history bustles with.... Starr is an undervalued and irreplaceable public treasure."--David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle
"For ambition, narrative drive and breadth of research across the disciplines from culture through politics and demography to agronomy and water management, no recent project of American historical writing comes close to Kevin Starr's mammoth, multi-volume "Americans and the California Dream".... It is a magnificent accomplishment.... Starr's project all along has been at least as concerned with the California of the imagination as with the California of fact and has assumed that realities do begin in dreams.... Starr is at least as good a narrator of nightmares as he is of the beauties, successes or accomplishments of the California experience."--David Rieff, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"An exciting picture of how California changed during World War II, yet remained irrepressibly the same. Kevin Starr has captured the whole cockeyed chiaroscuro, with a novelist's eye for the telling detail, and a historian's grasp of the sweep of grand events. From the Hollywood Canteen to the Black Dahlia mystery, from the plight of the Okies and the Japanese to the gargantuan military buildup and the Golden State's bone-deep frivolity, he's got it all down. I was there, and I know. I read the book with absorbed admiration." --Herman Wouk, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Caine Mutiny
and The Winds of War
"Kevin Starr is an absolutely wonderful writer, passionate, learned, born, as they said of Samuel Johnson, to wrestle with whole libraries. In Embattled Dreams
, he has surpassed himself. This is his best book yet." --Max Byrd, author and Professor of English, UC Davis
"No one knows the shadows and light of the California Dream better than Kevin Starr. World war and political repression brought darkness to the dream, but Starr reminds us of what makes California compelling, as the home of American heartbreak and American promise." --Virginia Scharff, Director, Center for the Southwest, University of New Mexico
"California, in all its mythical splendor and promise, is in fact America stripped naked of myth. That is why Kevin Starr, who knows and recites California's epic better than anyone, must be judged one of America's finest living historians. Read all six of his volumes and lose your dreams...in dreams." --Walter A. McDougall, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age
"The 1940s, that decade of wars both hot and cold, changed California more than any other era in history. Kevin Starr leaves nothing out. Here are the shifting politics and populations, the burgeoning shipyards and aircraft factories, the movies, the novels--the whole culture of this exciting society in profound transition. How does he focus so much detail into such a lively, driving narrative?" --Stephen Fender, Research Professor of American Studies, University of Sussex