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Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s (Americans & the California Dream) [Paperback]

by Kevin Starr
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 17, 1991 019507260X 978-0195072600
Kevin Starr is the foremost chronicler of the California dream and indeed one of the finest narrative historians writing today on any subject. The first two installments of his monumental cultural history, "Americans and the California Dream," have been hailed as "mature, well-proportioned and marvelously diverse (and diverting)" (The New York Times Book Review) and "rich in details and alive with interesting, and sometimes incredible people" (Los Angeles Times). Now, in Material Dreams, Starr turns to one of the most vibrant decades in the Golden State's history, the 1920s, when some two million Americans migrated to California, the vast majority settling in or around Los Angeles.
In a lively and eminently readable narrative, Starr reveals how Los Angeles arose almost defiantly on a site lacking many of the advantages required for urban development, creating itself out of sheer will, the Great Gatsby of American cities. He describes how William Ellsworth Smyth, the Peter the Hermit of the Irrigation Crusade, the self-educated, Irish engineer William Mulholland (who built the main aquaducts to Los Angeles), and George Chaffey (who diverted the Colorado River, transforming desert into the lush Imperial Valley) brought life-supporting water to the arid South. He examines the discovery of oil, the boosters and land developers, the evangelists (such as Bob Shuler, the Methodist Savanarola of Los Angeles, and Aimee Semple McPherson), and countless other colorful figures of the period. There are also fascinating sections on the city's architecture the impact of the automobile on city planning, the Hollywood film community, the L.A. literati, and much more.
By the end of the decade, Los Angeles had tripled in population and become the fifth largest city in the nation. In Material Dreams, Starr captures this explosive growth in a narrative tour de force that combines wide-ranging scholarship with captivating prose.

Frequently Bought Together

Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s (Americans & the California Dream) + Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (Americans and the California Dream) + Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (Americans and the California Dream)
Price for all three: $92.13

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Starr's excellent history of California here reaches a third volume (the earlier volumes are Americans and the California Dream: 1850-1915, LJ 7/73, and Inventing the Dream, LJ 5/1/85). Southern California--aka Los Angeles--has seized the floor. It's boosters are busy raiding land from the basin and water from the north, while Sister Aimee Semple McPherson soothes the crowds of new Californians. Colleges and culture begin to provide a sense of place and pride. Starr continues to employ social history and biography as a means of painting the greater picture. This method aptly suits the booming megalopolis, which is in large part the creation of idealists, visionaries, evangelicals, and eccentrics. Many of these stories have been told before, but they bear retelling by a writer with Starr's narrative gifts. Highly recommended.
-Timothy L. Zindel, Hastings Coll. of the Law, San Francisco
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Publisher

8 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Product Details

  • Series: Americans & the California Dream
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019507260X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195072600
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Starr Hits His Stride... March 16, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Starr hits his stride in this, his third in his epic series on the history of California. At last, Starr is free to focus on the subject that any reader can tell is "near and dear" to his heart: The emergence of Los Angeles as a full blown titan of a city. Although the subtitle to this book is "Southern California Through the 1920's", once again, it would be be more appropriate to hone in on the main subject and retitle the book "Los Angeles and Two Chapters on Santa Barbara Through the 1920's".
Again, not that I'm complaining. Perhaps because of Starr's intent focus on a single city, his talent really shines in this volume. This is one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in the last year.
The first section of the book deals with Southern California and Water. His sub chapter on the Imperial Valley is a real barn burner. I've never read such a complete account of the events in Imperial Valley in the early 20th century, and I would recommend the book for that reason alone.
The second and third sections tackle the emergence of Los Angeles society. Here, Starr goes on the offensive, tackling the idea that L.A. is a cultural wasteland. You can almost hear the voice of a professor lecturing undergraduates. Starr starts at economic institutions, discusses the people of Los Angeles and ends with a discussion of cultural institutions. The end of the third section deals with the "Santa Barbara" alternative.
For me, these two chapters were the least enjoyable in the book.
Fortunately, Starr rebounds with his treatment of literary and "biblio" society in LA. These chapters make for fascinating reading, and were a high point of the entire series. I certainly did not know that LA was a center of the rare book trade!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Kevin Starr winner June 1, 2008
Format:Paperback
Any history book by Kevin Starr is worth reading. I'm working my way through all of them. He is the greatest California historian ever!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920a January 6, 2009
By Bry
Format:Paperback
Very well written. A must for those interested in early California history. Very accurate in fact.
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