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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When California was cool
Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream)
Kevin Starr is himself a wondrous California resource. He seems to know all things California and this is the eighth volume in his "Americans and the California Dream" series. Opening it I felt like I was entering one of those latter-day off-beat supermarkets...
Published on August 29, 2009 by Jay C. Smith

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Falters at critical points
Kevin Starr has a gift for exhaustive political narrative but often misses facets of California life that are at least equally important.

In the DuBay-Cardinal McIntyre controversy, for instance, he makes the mistake of taking the issue out of the religious context. For him, the whole civil-rights movement was a political and legal issue that interested parties...
Published 7 months ago by William H. DuBay


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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When California was cool, August 29, 2009
By 
Jay C. Smith (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream)
Kevin Starr is himself a wondrous California resource. He seems to know all things California and this is the eighth volume in his "Americans and the California Dream" series. Opening it I felt like I was entering one of those latter-day off-beat supermarkets originating in the Golden State, encountering a cornucopia and expecting to be surprised by some of what I might find (or not). I was not disappointed.

Starr has a scholar's command of the material and a home-boy's affection for his subject. His great strength is as a compiler, distiller, and packager of the extensive historical literature on the state. This particular volume covers his own formative years (he is a San Francisco native) and it shows, favorably.

Golden Dreams is fact-jammed, but Starr renders it palatable by typically telling us just enough to humanize each of hundreds of persons whom he has selected to portray the culture, society, and politics of this period. Fortunately for both the author and his readers, California seems to have long had more than its share of memorable characters. Wisely, he does not adhere strictly to the 1950-1963 time boundaries when it is helpful to have retrospective context or to project toward later consequences.

The book includes five major sections covering suburbanization, the major cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego), politics and public works, selected aspects of culture, and what Starr calls dissenting opinions (primarily environmental and civil rights issues). The "Politics and Public Works" section, for example, ably documents how California prosperity was built on public investment, especially in the defense and aerospace industries, highways, water works, and higher education.

Certain imperfections are noticeable but tolerable in this expansive survey. Some readers may question the relative emphases Starr (or his editor) gives to certain life and culture topics. For example, there is an entire chapter on San Francisco regional literature, which in this context seems inordinately inclusive of many comparatively minor writers. So too, four pages on Tiki restaurants seem too much. On the other hand, I enjoyed his chapter on jazz (others may not, but I am a fan), and I felt it justified to balance West Coast contributions against those of New York, New Orleans, and Chicago, for instance.

As in one of the new-fangled California supermarkets, a few staples are missing. Surprisingly, Starr does not give sufficient attention to certain of the state's major industries. While he discusses the water and migrant labor politics of agriculture, we are mostly left to wonder about its variety, technologies, transformations, environmental impacts, and contribution to the state's economy. And although he identifies particular films and television shows and their stars to support various points throughout, he offers no systematic discussion of these industries as businesses during this period. Nor does he assess at any length how the advent of television viewing altered the lives of not just Californians, but Americans generally.

Starr's coverage overwhelmingly focuses on Southern California and the Bay Area, fair enough based on the population distribution. However, the counties north of Marin and Sonoma are left out altogether (except for occasional mention in relation to statewide political issues), the Central Valley receives very little attention, and Sacramento is noted only as a place where politics are done and Joan Didion grew-up.

On the whole, however, Golden Dreams is not only highly engaging, it serves as a good reminder of how much certain things changed both during the fifties and since. San Francisco, for example, was still "fundamentally conservative politically," although elements had long been "liberal in matters of private life." I had forgotten that the Republican national conventions in both 1956 and 1964 were in San Francisco (what could be more far-fetched today?).

Starr believes that "the national experience and the California experience became, increasingly, a converging phenomenon" in this period. California certainly exercised a major influence on the broader popular culture. Back then this Midwestern youth, and virtually all of my peers as I recall, thought California was the place to be. Surely, however, the state's image was idealized - it was not so golden for many groups, especially the poor.

As development has overcome parts of the state and as public investment now unravels the Golden State is less the model for dreams and emulation that it was in the fifties. Nevertheless, most readers are likely to be highly appreciative of Starr's satisfying re-creation of that time and place. I would look forward to his volume to cover the remaining period in this series, 1964 to 1989, if indeed one is forthcoming.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars California Dreaming, September 15, 2009
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This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
In recent years I have read all eight of Kevin Starr's "Americans and the California dream" histories. Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance is consistent with the previous volumes and has a powerful saliency for me because it focuses on the 1950s. I grew up in Southern California during this era and I suspect that that my Diaspora generation will find this volume to have exceptional meaning. Starr defines the 1950s as 1950-1963, reasoning that that the 1950s continued culturally until the murder of JFK. Starr's chronicle has been a voyage of discovery of my roots, a journey stimulated by advancing age and curiosity about the forces that shaped my life.

Starr writes that this period "survives in popular imagination as a stable landscape resting atop tectonic plates that would soon result in earthquakes as fissures." The reviewer for the Economist quibbled that Golden Dreams does not strictly adhere to the 1950-1963 time period. Starr has never made a fetish of strictly adhering to any era that was the focus of his previous volumes. There are instances where understanding an era requires background about an earlier period, and occasionally it makes sense to foreshadow future events or trends whose roots are in the era of immediate focus. A discussion of the importance of Big Sur to California literature in the 1950s demanded more than simply discussing Henry Miller. The prior residences of Robinson Jeffers and Jack London made Big Sur attractive to Miller and much of local resident John Steinbeck's work was written before the 1950s.

Starr's approach avoids the lazy stereotypes that have often made the 1950s a convenient scapegoat. Golden Dreams is neither an indictment nor an unqualified celebration of this period. He describes the surface conformity of Californians yet shows the inner rebellions and unfinished business that will eventually be confronted -- whether civil rights or the consequences of a population growth from 10.5 million (1950) to 20 million (1970). The dreams, frustrations and ambiguities of California are mirrored in the nation at large. California has captured the American imagination since the nineteenth century, but perhaps never more so than during this era. As a university student in England in the late 1960s I told friends that I thought of myself as a Californian, not an American. Forty years later and after residences in three other states this notion does not cross my mind.

Starr begins with an account of the suburbanization of the San Fernando Valley, which serves as a case study of the growth of suburbs throughout the state that were needed to house the expanding population. I was raised in that valley and Starr's narrative rings true with a wealth of often nostalgic detail -- the opening of the Ventura freeway (1960) within sight of my boyhood home, the uprooting of walnut and orange groves for tract homes, the buffoon of a mayor Sam Yorty, cultural fads such as `coon skin caps. Look Magazine (1962) stated that each day 375 acres of farmland were being converted to suburbs. No wonder the fields near my home where my pals and I did our biological exploring disappeared before our eyes. I had no idea as a youth of the relative affluence of the working and middle-classes there. In 1959 wages in San Fernando Valley were higher than the total wages of 18 states.

Part II focuses on life in the major cities. In Los Angeles, Starr focuses on the influences of Cardinal McIntyre (whose expansion of Catholic schools included Crespi High School where some of my neighbors were educated), Chief William Parker's virtual militarization of a police force in order to patrol 450 square miles, and Dorothy Buffum Chandler's work as the wife of the publisher of the Los Angeles Times to revive downtown as a cultural destination. Starr emphasizes the influence of newspaper columnist Herb Caen on the post World War II culture of the San Francisco Bay Area. Caen's Baghdad by the Bay (1949) became a self-fulfilling myth for the cultural identify and full-throated boosterism of many Bay Area residents today, long after Caen's death. Is there another city whose media so frequently and forcefully proclaim it to be the best place in the world to live? Would any self-confident city do that?

Part III (Politics and Public Works) focuses on the politicians who laid the infrastructure for an expanding California. Starr recounts the political maneuverings within the centrist Republican Party that was triggered by Eisenhower's appointment of Governor Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight became governor and would likely have been reelected in his own right in 1958 had U.S. Senator Joseph Knowland not decided to run for governor. Knowland, an apparent dim-wit, believed that if he were governor he might become the Republican candidate for president if Eisenhower's health faded. So Knight ran for the Senate and ultimately both Knight and Knowland lost. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and Claire Engel were elected governor and senator in 1958, no doubt with the quiet approval of Richard Nixon who immediately became the most prominent Republican in California. Pat Brown used his considerable political skills to plan for a Big Future. For better or worse, Brown deserves great credit for the implementation of statewide master plans for freeways, water development (the largest in world history) and higher education (including creating the world's first multiversity).

Throughout the series Starr focuses on the influence of arts and culture on the California dream. He acknowledges the work of Ray Bradbury, Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joan Baez, the Beach Boys, Susan Sontag and an entire(!) chapter on Dave Brubeck. I surmise Starr is a jazz afficionado. One of the delights of Starr's histories is identifying previously over-looked writers and book titles. My short list from Golden Dreams includes D.J. Waldie's Holyland: A Suburban Memoir (1996), Joan Didion's Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968), and Gertrude Atherton's Golden Gate Country (1945).

The chapter "Largest State in the Nation" captures the unease felt by many when California became the most populous state in 1962. While Governor Brown celebrated the achievement, individuals began forming organizations to resist growth for growth's sake. As Professor Raymond Dassman of Humboldt State University asked, "Is California better for becoming so populous?" It is a question we continue to ask today.

I have some quibbles. I wish Starr had included some maps so I would not have put Golden Dreams down so often to search out a location. There are factual errors, almost typo-errors. This is perhaps inevitable in a dense 500 page volume that synthesizes so much disparate information. For those focus on the blemishes, I am reminded of the preface to R. E. Moreau's The Palearctic-African Bird Migration System (1972): "I know it is full of imperfections and inadequacies and that readers will find errors from which I cannot be absolved. They will enjoy spotting them but I know too that in not a few places in the book they will find themselves surprised and stimulated."

The surprises and stimulations in Golden Dreams are legion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars magnificent account, September 12, 2009
This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
Kevin Starr is the pre-eminent living historian on California. This latest tome completes a magnificent series, and it spans what some might regard as an idyllic postwar era. The California Dream refers to the image that California represented to many, both within the state and elsewhere, during that time. He describes how the population drew massively, due to myriad attractions, like the weather and affordable land and many jobs.

The cutoff date of 1963 is somewhat arbitrary. As with the other books of the series, the choice of cutoffs is hazy. In the current narrative, it sometimes ventures into the late 60s when dealing with certain topics.

The cover image is well chosen. It evokes the zeitgeist, with a large car (automobiles drove the growth and culture of Los Angeles, for example) and the streamlined house. In a section on architecture, we see mention of the works of Neutra, Schindler, Eemes and others, that helped define what is now considered the classic look and feel of that era.

But the book is also careful to point out that California was not a paradise for all. The civil rights struggles of several groups are outlined. For instance, the NAACP would win some pivotal lawsuits that reduced discrimination against Negros [and other minorities] in education and housing. A parallel and complementary effort went on by Mexican Americans, especially in the farming sector. The ordeals of Japanese, Chinese and Filipinos are documented, and these were interestingly different, as made clear from the narrative.

While in the lengthy account of jazz, even here is seen discrimination, in how Negro musicians were often slighted [to put it mildly] by the broader [white] society.

To some readers, the civil rights accounts might see cursory. For example, shouldn't Cesar Chavez have gotten more indepth treatment? But remember that the book covers all aspects of California in that era, and within this constraint, Starr does a remarkable job.

By the way, Starr will be giving a free public lecture on 29 September 2009, at 13:00, on the University of Southern California campus [where he teaches], in the Doheny library. The talk will be on this book. If you have enjoyed his earlier works and live in Los Angeles, you may want to attend.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What State government can do with competence and pride., August 12, 2009
This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
This book is a must for anyone who lived in California in the 50s and early 60s and describes an exemplar of what rational, science and competence based State government can accomplish if it's citizens are willing to pay for the social utilities needed to support a modern life style.

A strong antidote for those who have given up hope on government-run programs and those who believe that government can provide excellent programs and services without having to pay for them.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Someone didn't proof read very well, July 15, 2009
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La BugZ (Berkeley, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
I've read all of the other volumes of Mr. Starr's history of California and think for the most part they are quite fascinating and have a knack for giving forth little known facts as well as well known ones in a way that is not banal, but fresh and interesting. But I have been appalled by the number of errors in spelling: 'Liseux' for Lisieux; 'Glen Rowell' for Galen Rowell; 'Tehema County' for Tehama County. There were others but why belabor a point? The problem with this kind of error occurring is that is challenges the credibility of the writing. For example, I thought I'd read it wrong except that I hadn't, that in Mr. Starr's book California he gave the year of the Moscone-Milk murder as 1979 and it having been such a monumental event in the lives of most northern Californians, the date was 1978. I gave the book away as I didn't want to face any more such errors which should not have happened. Nonetheless, there was much to be learned from this volume and all of the volumes on the history of the state.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Falters at critical points, May 20, 2014
By 
William H. DuBay (Hong Kong and Coupeville, WA, United States) - See all my reviews
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Kevin Starr has a gift for exhaustive political narrative but often misses facets of California life that are at least equally important.

In the DuBay-Cardinal McIntyre controversy, for instance, he makes the mistake of taking the issue out of the religious context. For him, the whole civil-rights movement was a political and legal issue that interested parties had to solve.

He ignores completely the intense debate about the moral issues in segregation going on in all churches throughout the state and throughout the country. He implies that the California Real Estate Association was interested in the core issue of private value when it aggressively attacked the Rumford Fair Housing Act.

He ignores completely the restrictive covenants that realtors required every home owner to sign, effecting a segregated society comparable to South Africa's apartheid. Kevin Starr, like the Cardinal, did not see segregation and the practices that create it as immoral. He ignores the personal cost of segregation. Parents in Compton and Watts struggled to keep their children from feeling hate and rage in the face of daily humiliations and insults of a segregated city.

Starr ignores the repeated statements of the Popes and the bishops condemning not just racism but discrimination and segregation in all their forms. It may be true that McIntyre was not much worse than other American bishops of the time. It had long been their practice to issue lofty statements asserting Christian doctrine about the solidarity of the human race and the equality of all races. But then, they would retreat to their respective dioceses and comply with the status quo of segregated communities as well as their own schools and churches.

Starr and Cardinal McIntyre's spokesperson Msgr. Frank Weber see the Cardinal as caught in a political fight between conservatives and liberals, a victim of his times. Starr asserts that the Cardinal was unjustly vilified by the "liberal and secular press" following DuBay's removal. He gives no credit to non-Catholic religious press around the world who supported DuBay also saw the Cardinal's decisions as a violation of central Christian doctrine.

Of course, the Catholic press, with few exceptions such as the Commonweal and Ave Maria magazines, had to vilify DuBay in every way possible for bringing his case to the public. That set an unforgivable precedent.

The Cardinal's crime, like that of the German bishops who failed to speak out against Hitler's treatment of Jews, was a crime of silence. The Cardinal was sitting on the whole civil rights movement in California

The Cardinal did finally join the other seven California bishops in August 1964 to oppose Proposition 14 opposing fair housing, it was too little and too late. The hierarchy and clergy had waited so long to give leadership in civil rights that the people were not ready to follow. On election day in November, the people voted to pass the proposition by a 2 to 1 vote.

It was a lesson for religious leaders everywhere. For hundreds of years, the clergy not only overlooked the moral dimensions of segregation and discrimination. They encouraged it by allowing separate schools, segregated churches, and all-white religious groups.

It was a turning point for the Catholic church as the Catholic conspiracy of silence on civil rights had ended. Even the Catholic press began to admit "the failure of Catholic people to have any real knowledge of the Catholic teaching on the state, on the whole notion of the right and duty of civil government to enact legislate in areas of this kind." Jesuit professor William J. Kenealy described the problem as "our failure as Catholics to practice in our daily lives the teachings of Christianity" in racial justice."

It is indeed unfortunate that a historian of Starr's standing did not recognize DuBay's expression of freedom of speech within the Church as a natural requirement of reform. Catholics were recognizing their Church as a human institution, as part of society and subject to the moral standards of the human race. This new recognition would eventually enable parents to take their bishops to court for clerical child abuse, which they had long held in silence.

Starr ignores the heated debates in the Catholic Church about the autonomy of priests, nuns, and lay people in taking their beliefs out of the church and into the marketplace. In the Selma march of 1965, we saw priests and nuns from all over the country holding hands and marching with local activists, experiencing an unprecedented independence and freedom of movement. They needed no longer a prelate's permission to exercise their conscience in the public realm.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant essay on the way it was, November 5, 2010
This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
I was born in Calfiornia at the tail end of the era that is covered in this book, so it was natural that I checked out this history of California during the Space Age. For a 480-page book, it sure kept me captive with a variety of issues that were covered. Kevin Starr is the State Librarian Emeritus of the California State Library and as a result of good research, the quality of his work shines through.

The book starts out with the growth of the state that arose due to the postwar boom following World War II. People flocked to defense-oriented jobs that were in the metro Los Angeles area and moved into little homes in the San Fernando Valley and various areas in once rural Orange County. The book continues by describing the cultural nuances of that area that was dominated by modernism and tiki, a style derived from polynesian culture that was brought back to Calfornia from intinerant travelers to the region after the war.

The second part of the book goes into the development of various regions of the state including the Bay Area, the Los Angeles basin and San Diego. Notable figures such as Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Christopher of San Francisco, Mayor Poulson of Los Angeles who lured the Dodgers from Brooklyn, Cardinal McIntyre and LAPD chief William Parker are given the most emphasis. Politics covers the third part of the book with the majority of the section dwelling on politcal figures such as Pat Brown, William Knowland and Goodwin Knight, a moderate Republican governor who was brushed aside and lost a Senate race in 1958 ending his political career. The massive development of water projects and the rise of the UC and CSU are also covered.

The fourth part of the book covering the arts was a refreshing read that dewlled on the Beat poets, the bohemian lifesytle of people like Henry Miller who wrote Tropic of Cancer and led a movement along the Central Coast south of Monterey that emphasized alternative lifesytles. The book also showed the defects of such behavior which included the number of suicides among them. The book concludes with issues concerning the environment, race relations and general criminal justice issues such as the Chessman case.

The book was light on footnotes, but that was more than made up in the form of a monstrous bibliography that would lead a serious researcher into examining some of the subjects covered in this book in depth. I have some disagreement with the author in terms of general conclusions of the social issues that were given prominence in the latter half of the book. Neverhteless, this was a well-written book that I recommend warmly.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little too much, May 16, 2010
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This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
As a former California resident I purchased the book expecting to read a lengthy tale of well-documented nostalgia. However I soon learned the nature of the book is far more scholarly than nostalgic. Despite my disappointment I still give it 4 stars due to its unequaled detail. This book is THE authoritative text on the topic, but it reads like a collected set papers from a colloquium.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed But Lyrical of The Golden Years, August 25, 2013
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Starr's period of review--1950 to 1963--covered California's halcyon days, and I arrived in the state in 1961 to witness the last third of that period first hand.

As a graduate Stanford student in journalism, I saw up close many of the personalities he describes, and his depiction rings true with my memory as a Baghdad by the Bay observer.

Later in life I managed government affairs in Sacramento for one of the Kaiser companies and recall the "happy warrior" Pat Brown walking the legislative hallways and greeting everyone--and Starr's Brown is described accordingly.

Starr's account allowed for me to relive those days when all Californians thought the golden sunsets beyond the Golden Gate would continue for ever.

Starr's only shortcoming--but a necessary one to be a classic historian--is that he crams every detail and name into each chapter, and that can wear the reader down.

Starr's capture what excellent historical narratives are--readable, enlivening and evocative of those times for the reader who lived then,

Timothy J. Conlon
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captures the lure of the West when I was growing up..., August 1, 2009
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This review is from: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) (Hardcover)
This book combines historical perspective with all sorts of interesting facts and trivia about the mid-century allure of California. As a Midwesterner who felt the siren song myself and moved here as a young adult, I found this book to be as entertaining as it is informative. Five stars.
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