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Should Be Called a History of Southern California
on February 17, 2004
... Not that I have a problem with that. This is the second volume in Starr's definitive six volume history of California. Starr writes history that combines straight forward "who, what, when" facts with digressions into literary criticism and pyschologlogical speculation. This is a blend that is quite apt for California, and I have found volume one and two to be rewarding.
Starr (who is also the state librarian for California) also includes excellent essays on his sources for each chapter, which makes further reading a snap! For example, after reading his first volume "Americans and the Californian Dream", I read "The Octopus" by Frank Norris and "Two Years Before the Mast" by Dana.
This book covers roughly the same time period as the first volume, and there is some overlap. After all, there wasn't THAT much going on in California from 1850 to 1900. However, while the first volume focuses almost totally on Northern California, this volume focuses almost totally on Southern California.
And by Southern California, I mean Los Angeles, with a little bit of Riverside thrown in. As a native of San Francisco and a current resident of San Diego, I simply couldn't believe at how little San Diego county came in for mention. Again, I'm hesitant to label this as a criticism, since I did love the book, but I just wonder what San Diego did (or didn't do) to get left out.
Starr spends ample time covering pre-American Southern California history. He charts the development of California agriculture, talks about the "Craftsman" movement and, as his wont, spends entire chapters talking about the artists and boosters of the time. Personally, after reading this book I have resolved to read at least one book of Mary Austin.
Towards the end of this volume Starr dishes out a hefty dose of the history of the Progressive movement in California. His essay on sourcing for this chapter reveals a penchant for the works of more traditional political history writers, and I felt like this chapter was kind of "eh."
His final chapter is on the growth of Hollywood. I don't feel like he adds anything to the voluminous literature on this subject, but hey, this is a survey of California history, and I suppose he had to include it.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. If you are more interested in Southern then Northern California, you may want to skip the first volume and proceed directly to this one.