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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2009
This is the second volume in Kevin Starr's ongoing cultural history of California. It focuses the ideas of California - as an Eden, a health center, a place to get rich quick and leave, and all the others - and shows how they emerged, grew, interacted with each other and with reality and how they affect us today. This volume is from the post-Gold Rush era to WWI, approximately 1870-1920.

This volume focuses heavily on Southern California, in my opinion too heavily, especially since the next volume Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s (Americans & the California Dream) is also about Southern California. The population of Northern California was significantly larger than Southern California until about 1920. Apparently the reason for this disproportion is that Starr is focusing on the 'American Dream'. Northern California had more immigrants, especially Catholic ones. Mostly white, Protestant, Americans moved to Southern California, and these are the ones that generated the 'dreams' Starr is interested in. Although Starr does look at Northern California (especially the agricultural community) it would have been more interesting to me if he had done more comparing of the two cultures. However, Starr is upfront about his focus from the beginning, although not so clear about why.

Another area Starr has difficulty with is geography and natural history. Ice plant is not native to California, The Pacific Current, coming from Alaska, is rich in nutrients but not warm, and the Pleistocene (post ice age) ecology of California evolved with humans as an integral part. Also, the second chapter is about books and paintings. If you have not read the books or seen the paintings, this can be heavy going, so you may want to skip this until later.

However, these are relatively minor issues. The writing is lyrical (perhaps a bit too much) and he clearly loves California and its history. Starr is perhaps the greatest living expert on California history. Reading his works is necessary to an understanding of California today, even if you disagree with him on some issues.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 6, 2008
I love Kevin Starr's books. His multi-volume history of California deserves a Nobel Prize (for Literature) in my opinion, but there is something unique about Kevin Starr that potential readers should know: His heart may be in California (he was born in San Francisco), but his razor sharp mind is clearly in New England (he's a Harvard Ph.D.). Dr. Starr writes California history through the eye lens of a Boston Brahmin. Just like his first book in the series, he's very much concerned with the geographic, religious and (especially) academic pedigree of the important California founders he discusses. He mentions that Charles Fletcher Lummis is a "Harvard Man" what seems like a hundred times in the text, and his very East-coast interests are revealed in the topics he concentrates on the most: the founding of cultural and academic institutions, architecture, literature, religion and geographic origin. This book, as is the case with the absolutely marvelous AMERICANS AND THE CALIFORNIA DREAM, is very much about transplantation of European civilization from East to West.

Now, if you like that sort of thing, you'll love this book. Being a transplant from the East myself, I happen to like it, and I think this book is to Los Angeles what his earlier book is to San Francisco: The story of how restless, eccentric and talented Easterners came to the harsh, beautiful West and, in the process, disrupted their European sensibilities and invented a new type of civilization. It's a fascinating story, told with brilliant insight by this remarkable historian, with a truly profound lack of political subjectivity. It's rare to find this type of history being written today.

Dr. Starr's narrative skill is unmatched. Really. He has the pen of an Arthur Schlesinger or a Gordon Wood, without the political agenda and with a somewhat more plodding interest in dates, names and places akin to Henry Adams or Daniel Boorstin. His knowledge of the entire range of California history, from geographic formation to "The Governator" is so complete that Daniel Boorstin seems like an Amateur in comparison. Pun intended.
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on November 19, 2010
"Inventing the Dream" offers a comprehensive view of California from the 1850's to the Progressive Era. Generous coverage of Southern California reveals great stories in some of its most influential characters that helped turn a pristine landscape into a booming economy and point of destination for Easterners in search of new challenges and endless opportunities.

Hollywood and the film industry serve as the emphasis for this book's final chapters. And there is in these ending chapters one story of Olive Thomas that I wonder about. In fact checking his account of her death, I found that most versions of her untimely death at the early age of twenty-five are attributed to her accidentally ingesting a bottle of mercury bichloride that was prescribed for her husband's bout with syphilis. Mr. Starr claims that she committed suicide and that it was most likely linked to an overdose of heroin. All accounts mention heavy drug use, however, mostly cocaine. Also, Mr. Starr seems to infer that the suicidal theory is one that was sanctioned by the Parisian police at that time, when again most accounts hold that the police determined that the death was accidental.
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on July 31, 2013
I believe that I am up to date, having read every Kevin Starr book published. He is a writer that makes California history come alive to even the casual self proclaimed historian. This book addresses the Progressive Era in California, a much misunderstood movement by many. Current California political observers would be hard pressed to see any linkage between today's Progressives and what actually was the Progressive Era in California history. That alone is a reason enough to read it.
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on July 1, 2014
Great, Thanks!
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on April 8, 2013
Inventing the Dream, California Through the Progressive Era by Kevin Staff

Admission, I have not read the whole book. I have concentrated on two chapters since I am working on a article about the cultural history of my neighborhood, Highland Park.
There is nothing to say about his work other than-wonderful. Starr is probably not well know outside of California. He is essentially the historian of California having written a series of books collectively known as America and the California Dream. Starr was the California librarian from 1994 to 2004 and currently teaches as USC.

Aside from sholarly detail and a poetic writing style he tackles the interest proposition of how California became what it is. Remember that when California was developing American culture was dominated by the Northeast. It of course is to some degree still in that position, but we have developed our own identity that has also shaped America. How this happened is Starr’s wheelhouse. Anyone interested in anything about California history must consult him.

When my article about Highland Park is finished hope he will read it and I am open to criticism, but hopefully maybe a little praise.


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on September 27, 2015
Topics are less intriguing than initial volume, but some may find the genesis of early Hollywood fascinating, or the birth of the agricultural economy in CA.
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on July 23, 2006
I read this book 20 years ago. It has held up remarkably well. California is the victim of its own utopian dreams.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2013
Unfortuinately, I purchased this book as new condition, but in the final two or three chapters every page was copiously highlighted. This is the second time I have encountered this problem when purchasing a book through Amazon that came from one of their dealers. On the previous occurrence, Amazon gave me a partial credit. Now, I am very dubious about purchsing a book through one of the dealers.
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