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The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire
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The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire [Hardcover]

Mark Arax , Rick Wartzman
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

This meticulous narrative of the rise of the cotton magnate James G. Boswell begins in the nineteen-twenties, when his family was driven from Georgia by boll-weevil infestations and brought its plantation ways to California's San Joaquin Valley. Not to be defeated by nature again, the Boswells leveed and dammed Tulare Lake, the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, to the point of extinction. In its six-hundred-square-mile basin they grew cotton, while in Los Angeles office towers they built one of the country's largest agricultural operations, swallowing small farms and multimillion-dollar subsidies with equal vigor. Arax and Wartzman strive for evenhandedness but acknowledge the costs of Big Ag—such as evaporation ponds with selenium levels so high that ducks are born with corkscrewed beaks and no eyes, and the recurrent "hundred-year floods," stubborn attempts by the old lake to reassert itself.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Booklist

You may never have heard of him, but J. G. Boswell controls the biggest farming empire in America. In the early part of the twentieth century, his family moved from Georgia to California, where they drained one of the country's biggest lakes, Tulare Lake, and planted cotton. Soon their cotton empire became the richest and most technologically sophisticated on the planet. This book is many stories, all rolled into one epic. It's the story of the Boswells from the 1800s to the present day; of cotton farming in America; of California itself; and of the evolution of race relations as the country dragged itself out of the era of slavery and, not at all smoothly, into the modern era. Written in a lively style that matches the bigger-than-life qualities of its subject, the book is far more exciting than you might think the story of a cotton farmer would be. With proper marketing, it could smash through genre barriers and become the Seabiscuit of agricultural biography! David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


" alluring and fascinating account... a rollicking tale..." -- Raleigh News and Observer, January 11, 2004

"Fascinating...Arax and Wartzman are talented writers" -- "Day to Day," National Public Radio

"Fascinating...Arax and Wartzman are talented writers." -- National Public Radio's "Day to Day"

"Intelligently fair-minded" -- The Economist

"Passionate, fair-minded, thought-provoking and groundbreaking...Thoroughly moving, deeply rendered and utterly trustworthy." -- Los Angeles Times

"With obstinate bravura, [Arax and Wartzman] rip down curtains that have veiled this valley...For scope and readability, these guys shine." -- The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 2, 2003.

"[A] landmark and improbably entertaining book" -- The San Francisco Chronicle

"[a] meticulous narrative of the rise of the cotton magnate James G. Boswell..." -- The New Yorker, November 10, 2003.

"a remarkably detailed and eye-opening portrait" -- The Washington Post

"an outstanding book ... Arax and Wartzman leave us an appreciation of Boswell despite his considerable warts." -- California Lawyer, August

About the Author

Mark Arax is an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and Rick Wartzman is the paper's business editor. Arax is the author of the critically acclaimed In My Father's Name, about his search to find his father's killers. He lives in Fresno. Wartzman was previously with The Wall Street Journal, where for fifteen years he served in a variety of posts, including White House correspondent and founding editor of the paper's weekly California edition. He lives in Los Angeles.
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