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The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth (Creating the North American Landscape) Paperback – March 1, 2001

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The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth (Creating the North American Landscape) + Down By the Los Angeles River: Friends of the Los Angeles Rivers Official Guide + Southern California: An Island on the Land
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Product Details

  • Series: Creating the North American Landscape
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801866421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801866425
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 7.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

"Relates the history of the river with graceful thoroughness."


Gumprecht modestly claims that his interest in the Los Angeles River 'has always been more in its past than in its future.' But we require the past he presents, like water in our desert, to make the choices in our future intelligible. Another of the catastrophes of the river will be that too few Angelenos are likely to find and read this essential book... Over the past 150 years, amnesiac L.A. has looked at the space occupied by the river and misread it as dry land ready for development, a western barricade against immigrant neighborhoods, a water resource to be exploited, a perfectly engineered drain and finally a concrete void. Gumprecht gives a broad historical, geographical and human context to these misreadings, and he understands their seductions, particularly the current image of the river as a pathetic captive to be exhumed from its concrete coffin... In the contradictions of the river, Gumprecht reveals a broader conflict about the uses of space in Los Angeles, and that unresolved argument spills over into harder questions here and in every part of the country about the limits of environmental restoration. Confronting them in detail, as Gumprecht does, takes courage.

(D. J. Waldie Los Angeles Times Book Review)

Gumprecht has produced an astoundingly well-researched environmental history of Los Angeles, as well as a detailed accounting of the political structures that have shaped the river's, and the city's, development.

(Ben Ehrenreich LA Weekly)

In this fine history of the creek, which travels from the San Fernando Valley to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean off Long Beach, Gumprecht strews river anecdotes around the politics and controversies surrounding the river. It's a must-own for anyone who cares about the development of Southern California or the geography of this part of the state.

(Tim Grobaty Long Beach Press-Telegram)

Gumprecht describes the crucial role that the river played in the settlement and growth of L.A.

(both as a water source and as a symbol of the region's Arcadian promise—and, conversely, how the river was remade in the image of the metropolis itself, becoming depleted and degraded by the very development it made possible. Like fellow L.A. historian Mike Davis, Gumprecht scatters an archive of startling photos throughout the book, from a man holding a 25-pound trout caught in the river in 1940 to the scene of a riverbed drag race broken up by police in 1950. Conjuring images of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Gumprecht's river 'biography' breathes vitality into a subject that in the hands of a less enthusiastic author might be drier than the industrial wasteland that he describes.Publishers Weekly)

In this well-written and beautifully crafted study, Blake Gumprecht provides a close look at the evolution of one of America's most urban rivers, focusing on the impact the river has had on human activities and how, in turn, those activities have altered the stream... This is an important book. Thoroughly researched and balanced in its findings, it is illustrated by well-chosen maps, diagrams, drawings, and photographs. Environmental, urban, and economic historians will find much to ponder in this study, which cuts across academic boundaries. Policy makers will also find it refreshing; interpretative without being overly judgmental, the book poses valuable questions to anyone trying to plan future urban developments.

(Mansel G. Blackford American Historical Review)

The Los Angeles River seems an unlikely subject for a book. The unsightly paved passageway that runs through the modern city resembles little more than a glorified drainage ditch... Yet, the river's concrete facade obscures a fascinating history, one expertly revealed by Blake Gumprecht in this exceptional book... Not the least of the virtues of The Los Angeles River is its graceful writing. From the opening paragraphs, the reader experiences the joys of a journey conducted by an entertaining and reliable guide. Gumprecht, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, is equipped with a vivid sense of language and strong narrative skills, allowing him to navigate a complex and often confusing tale and to make it readily accessible to the reader. Excellent maps and photos enhance the voyage.

(Jules Tygiel Business History Review)

A well-written and solidly researched book on a topic about which little is known... In the past decade, Los Angeles has become a laboratory for theoretical and occasionally polemical scholarship on urban geography. Straightforward, temperate, and chronologically narrated, Gumprecht's work in many ways poses a refreshing counterbalance to that genre.

(Jared Orsi Environmental History)

A masterpiece of classical geographical synthesis. [Gumprecht] has woven a compelling depiction of the physical geography of the Los Angeles Basin and its settlement history; and he has extended the tapestry to include the battles over water, the engineering of the channel for flood control, and the dreamy attempts to restore some semblance of nature to the river. The narrative is an absorbing account of how the modest river provided the leverage to spur a development explosion... The Los Angeles River is the kind of book we should all read, and encourage our students to read, because it is one reminder of what good geography is all about. I wish I could write like that!

(Douglas J. Sherman Geographical Review)

The well written prose on an interesting topic makes this a worthwhile read.

(Erik Prout Historical Geography)

I welcome books like this, that merge history, geography and public policy into a cogent, readable, and remarkably objective work.

(Bob Pavlik California History Action)

Once the very soul of the city's landscape, the Los Angeles River is now just a concrete storm sewer. But, as Blake Gumprecht argues in this landmark history, its resurrection may become the unifying civic crusade of the next decade.

(Mike Davis)

Exceptional history... Like Waldie's Holy Land and Robert Adams's Los Angeles Spring, Gumprecht's book made palpable a landscape I have never wanted to be too long absent from.

(Barry Lopez)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "littleghost" on December 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This fascinating book is packed with information about the history of Los Angeles. Not many present-day Angelenos would know that the location for the city was chosen because of the once-abundant flow of the Rio de Porciuncula, or Los Angeles River. Blake Gumprecht pulls an amazing feat in researching the River's many incarnations alongside the history of the growth of Los Angeles. In addition to providing detailed reports of the River's former courses, and devastating accounts of some of the River's infamous catastrophic floods, Mr. Gumprecht explains the River's role in shaping the course of Los Angeles city politics in greater detail than any previous study.
Once an ample stream that sustained all of the city's water needs for over 100 years, the Los Angeles River was then pumped dry, smothered in concrete, and almost pushed out of the city's consciousness. Incredible photographs appear throughout the book; many of these photos will make nature-loving Angelenos yearn for the Los Angeles River of yesteryear, with its bubbling, meandering stream, and its banks lined with willows and sycamores.
Long before you approach the end of this book, you realize that, in an over-zealous attempt to control flooding, the Los Angeles River was essentially raped, depleted, and buried. The fact that, at present, most of its 51 miles are cement is a shame -- especially in a city with so little park space. Amazingly, the River still provides up to 15% of L.A.'s drinking water, albeit from subterannean pumps that tap the River's flow before it ever reaches the surface. And millions of gallons of River water were diverted to the Silver Lake reservoir.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you've ever wondered why Los Angeles is in the middle of a desert (hint: it wasn't always), what the river looked like before there was a city, and why the river was buried in concrete, this is the book. An excellent description of the origins of the river and the city, with insights into the modern revitalization movement.
Among the things I learned:
--The river starts in the San Fernando Valley, but the city of Los Angeles has claimed the water as its own since at least 1810, a claim eventually known as the Pueblo Water Right.
--Not all of those concrete beds in L.A. are technically the L.A. river, which starts along the south edge of the San Fernando Valley, dodges a number of movie studios, and makes a right turn through downtown before heading for the Pacific. The others are creeks and washes that feed (fed) the river.
--The area's light rainfall was sufficient to keep the river flowing year-round until suburbia took over. Concrete and asphalt reduced the water that soaked into the ground to be released slowly into the river. Now, the primary source of flowing river water is the what's been reclaimed from sewage treatment plants.
Worth the read for all Angelenos or anyone who is interested in Los Angeles.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Z. William Arkosy on February 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Reading this book was an assignement for a geography course I was taking in college. My first thoughts were "A book on the L.A. River? How can they write an entire book on a river that flows a couple of days per year?" My indifference to the subject was quickly dismissed after the first few pages. This book is very insightful! It gives a detailed history on L.A., from it's foundation as a tiny pueblo to the sprawling metropolis it is today, with the river & water in Southern California being the central themes. I always wondered why L.A. was built in the area it's in & Mr. Gumprecht answers that in fine detail along with many other interesting facts regarding the annexation of neighboring cities, water rights, deadly floods and ultimately the concrete channel built to contain this unpredictable river.

Whoever is interested in the histroy of this region will no doubt greatly enjoy this superb book!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first saw the Los Angeles River in TV shows and movies like Terminator 2 and have ever since been interested in learning more about this strange, concrete encased urban waterway. Blake Gumprecht's book does a great job of providing the history of the Los Angeles River from its pristine condition two centuries ago into the modern era as a "Freeway for Water" in the book "The Los Angeles River."

The author balances his coverage of the river and fairly represents both sides of the struggle to restore it back to a more natural appearance versus the need to provide flood control protection with concrete fortifications.

The book is extremely well researched and documented. Extensive maps and photos shed light on the topic and make the historical changes easier to follow.

My only wish is that a future edition will include color photos.
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