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Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950 (Americans and the California Dream) Paperback – August 7, 2003

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195168976 ISBN-10: 0195168976 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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

"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

"Exploring that enigmatic blend of dreams and hardscrabble reality has been Kevin Starr's lifework in his brilliant and epic social and cultural history of the state."--Eric Schine, Business Week

"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

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Product Details

  • Series: Americans and the California Dream
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168976
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert D. Harmon VINE VOICE on March 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Kevin Starr has created a brilliant picture of California in an eventful decade. I need not add to the summaries Amazon has above; I can say that Starr's writing is vivid and sweeping and he manages to place all the events and social evolution in perspective.

And I found material that was still fresh, even given my own background as a consumer of history and as a lifetime Californian. The impact of wartime shipbuilding and aviation industry on California's sleepy economy and postwar prosperity; the zoot-suit riots and what they revealed about California's race problems; the bar and nightlife scenes in SF and LA; the Legislature's mover-fixer Artie Samish and his downfall; the noirish Black Dahlia murder in a time when Hollywood was discovering film noir. Indeed, Mr. Starr illuminates the last one by pointing out Hollywood's mingling with the LA underworld and with some of the rougher LAPD detectives.

It's true that Starr may have crowded his canvas somewhat, but he is adept at fitting them together and presenting them as one epic transformation in the state's history. Given the impact that California's major social upheavals have had for the US and the wider world -- the Gold Rush, Silicon Valley, the dot-com boom -- this book, and this period, is well worth a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Leon Baradat on February 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
As the subtitle suggests, this is a history of California from 1940 to 1950, and it delivers just that. It's a close-up look at California during that decade, and it's quite an eye-opener. I never realized what a racist hell-hole my state was back then. Of course the Japanese Internment might have been a clue there, but the way it's talked about today it's made to sound like a sort of aberration, when in reality things had been building up to it for decades. And, of course, the racism extended to everyone not white, especially Mexicans and blacks. Go figure...but I digress.

Anyhow, the book details the start of California's transformation from a sleepy outpost (going so far as to mention the Wild West's last shootout, which took place in Bakersfield) to a bustling, booming state with the country's largest population. It discusses important California figures such as Earl Warren and Richard Nixon, and details Hollywood's complex relationship with the rest of the country, from its overreaching period during the war to the defensive stance it had to take during the shameful McCarthy Era. There are lots of good things in here, from the Zoot Suit Riots to the Manhattan Project to the formation of Kaiser International.
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By Ryan J. Cummins on July 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The amount of information included in this book made it a very enjoyable read. The book is dense (in a good way) and covers every aspect of the time period. Looking forward to the other books in the series by this author.
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