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Southern California: An Island on the Land Paperback – March 15, 1980

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Widely recognized as the best non-fiction book written about Southern California for the period 1920s through the 1940s.

Southern California: An Island on the Land is packed with fascinating material on the region and its galaxy of personalities--from Helen Hunt Jackson to Aimee Semple McPherson, from Huntington the financier to Hatfield the rainmaker.

Carey McWilliams provides insights into many subjects, ranging from the origins of Hollywood to the flowering of International Style architecture in Los Angeles.

This book was originally published in 1946. This reprint edition has been continuously in print from Gibbs Smith, Publisher since 1973.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


If years before I wrote Southern California: An Island on the Land, I had planned to write it, then it could be said that I picked exactly the right time to settle in the region, that my work experience was providential, and that I selected precisely the right group of friends. But of course I did not plan to write the book; it grew out of my experiences in a perfectly natural way. Let me explain.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Peregrine Smith; 9 edition (March 15, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879050071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879050078
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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....California historian known to me, with his pithy style, his endlessly fascinating observations, and his anecdotes, rich in history and amusing in detail, which unlike the rivers of my state flow one after the other without any damming. I'm a native of Southern California, and I have yet to find a better book on this territory even though this one was originally penned in the late 40's.
The colonizers, the boosters, the flamboyant pillars of society who bamboozled, bulldozed, and boutiqued their way into California: they and other characters appear on the McWilliams stage in a fascinating--and at times disturbing--progression in which the land itself, that most neglected of characters, puts in appearances too. For we Southern Californians live in a land of constant paradoxes; to quote the author ("The Land of Upside Down"):
"To their amazement"--he means tourists--"they discovered that umbrellas were useless against the drenching rains of Southern California but that they made good shade in the summer; that many of the beautifully colored flowers had no scent; that fruit ripened earlier in the northern than in the southern part of the state; that it was hot in the morning and cool at noon...here, in this paradoxical land, rats lived in the trees and squirrels had their homes in the ground." No wonder we're all a bit topsy-turvy out here.
My one objection: I disagree with the author's description of the early Missions as "concentration camps." That through disease and, later, a mis-education that left the Native converts vulnerable to ranchero exploitation and settler genocide is beyond question; but however misguided their efforts, those early padres had no conscious agenda of wiping out a people.
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Format: Paperback
For all residents of Southern California past, present, or potential, there can be no better book about this unmatchable part of the world. Past residents (like myself) will sigh with fond remembrance, current residents will be amused, and potential future residents will be astonished. All will be entertained. The land, the geography, the history, and the weather. They're all discussed. The social outcasts, the wierd misfits, the kooks, the characters, and their schemes and dreams. It's all here, along with so very much more. Written by a longtime resident in a very entertaining style that combines dinner conversation with classroom lecture, this book will be a joy to anyone who has a love for the irreplacable experience of Living In Southern California. You will truly FEEL as though you are there. This book is one for the heart as well as the mind. Oh Los Angeles, how I miss you. Carey McWilliams, thanks for taking me back.
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Format: Paperback
Carey McWilliams has been called "the single finest nonfiction writer on California--ever." This book, along with *California: The Great Exception* (1949), helped establish that reputation. Drawing on McWilliams's deep insight and remarkable versatility--he moved easily between the worlds of politics, law, literature, and journalism--this book, even after six decades, still captures the spirit and energy of a region that seems to remake itself continuously. *Southern California* has influenced not only journalists and academics, but also artists. One of its chapters, for example, inspired Robert Towne's Oscar-winning original screenplay for *Chinatown* (1974).

Unlike most historians, McWilliams also made history by serving in state government, arguing against the Japanese internment during World War II, and defending the rights of workers, minorities, and the unjustly accused--frequently in high-profile cases such as the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and the Hollywood 10. In one critical area after another, McWilliams mapped the social and political territory, raised the main issues, distilled the key facts, and proposed the most practical remedies. He's probably the most versatile American public intellectual of the 20th century, and *Southern California* is one of his masterpieces. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Originally published in 1946, McWilliams describes the socio-historical and economic formations of Southern California from the "bottom up" in a way uncharacteristic for his time period. He unveils the racist, eurocentric, environmentally devastating, materialistic and otherwise ruthless basis for the area's hegemonic culture, economy, and social relations. Moreover, he adds great insight into the incorporation of California into the world capitalist system. He covers the use, abuse, and devastation of various peoples in the area including Native Americans, Californios, Chinese, Japanese, Oklahomans and Mexicans. He also offers insight into the materialism or 'fake' culture which has emerged from the area only to exploit the cultures it has destroyed. The book is a bit long winded at times, but overall is a must read for anyone intersted in the topics I've described. It would be of interest to anyone who appreciates Almaguer's Racial Faultlines, Pitt's The Californios, or even Montejano's Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas.
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