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Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915 Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195042337
ISBN-10: 0195042336
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  • Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Highly readable....The book is full of surprises, it is constantly challenging....A fine performance."--Pacific Historical Review

"[Starr] is bringing much to Western social and literary history."--American Historical Review

"One devil of a fine book, a book only a native Californian could write...about the Inner Life of California, the psychic landscape that emerges from the works and ways of her writers, both native and self-adopted. The result is a mature, well-proportioned and marvelously diverse (and diverting) study."--The New York Times Book Review

"A very important book."--Joseph H. Krause, California State University, Long Beach

"Indispensable...Starr's book does for California what Henry Nash Smith's 'Virgin Land' did for the opening of the West: it demonstrates how idea, myth, misconception and hope shaped and often distorted a developing society."--Los Angeles Times

"A vivid portrayal of the rich and varied intellectual forces which helped shape one of our most distinctive regional cultures."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"An exceptional work, both in thought and magnitude....Both scholars and laymen will find this volume a worthwhile addition to their libraries."--History: Reviews of New Books

"A highly original inquiry into the interplay of vision and event.'"--Virginia Quarterly Review

"A captivating narrative that documents the importance of myth and imagination in attracting Americans to California before World War I."--R.H. Limbaugh, University of the Pacific

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8 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Americans and the California Dream
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 4, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195042336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195042337
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.3 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Having lived in CA since I was 15 and not being able to imagine living somewhere else, I thought this volume is a must-read for all Californians, whether born here or "naturalized". Being specifically a San Francisco resident, this book shed more light on the history of this city's beginning and "teenage years" than any other source I have come across. Here you will not just read facts about people like Jack London, Frank Norris, John Muir, John C. Fremont and Richard Henry Dana. You will learn what they contributed to the idea of California and their influence on what this state has turned out to be, for good or bad. You will also learn of lesser-known figures such as Thomas Starr King, Thomas Jordan, Isidore Duncan all of whom were immensely powerful figures in their day, but hardly known today by the average Californian. The writing got a little ploddy at the end for me. Maybe I was just tired. Until I got to the last two chapters, I would have given it a 5 score, mostly on the criteria of how much I learned from it. I look forward to reading the next few volumes.
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Format: Paperback
As a native Californian (San Francisco) I read this book after seeing it cited again and again as an excellent entry point for a study of California history.
I was not disappointed. I believe this book is widely acknowledged as a classic in the field of California history, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with that judgment.
Prof. Starr attempts to illuminate the psychology of early California by providing mini-biographies of important California residents. These biographies are linked together by several recurrent themes. It is these themes that provide the thesis (theses?) of the book.
The themes are: The dark side of the optomism which characterizes the "California" personality; the harsh conflict in early times which affected the development of a Californian "civilisation" and the melding of cultures (Mexican and Californian, Northern and Southern) that produced Californian culture.
Starr focuses more on cultural rather then economic or political figures. Starr also shows a fondness for somewhat Freudian explanations for behavior (repressive parents, absent parents, neglectful parents). Given the age of the book (1975) it's hard to quibble with the inclusion of a perspective tilted towards psychological explanation.
On the whole it was a worthwhile read, and not too dense either. Recommended for those interested in the history of California and it's culture.
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Format: Paperback
Kevin Starr has written a fantastic book. In Americans and the California Dream the reader is introduced to the giants of the age--Herbert Hoover, Leland Stanford, David Star Jordan, John Muir, John C. Fremont, etc. I also loved the fact that he included the lessor known personalities as well. Mr. Star clearly relates the truth behind all the myth and romance with regards to the Gold Rush. While Bret Harte is thorougly debunked, Starr acknowledges that the Gold Rush continues to hold the lure and romance that it always possessed. Anyone who wishes to be introduced to the wonderful history of California must read this. I will immediately purchase the second book of the series.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Starr's cultural history of California is more institutional history than anything else, which is not a bad thing if you like foundation studies. At the core of the book is the story of how enterprising and eccentric New Englanders attempted to tranfer their native civilization, with all its European imagery, to a new "city on the hill" at San Francisco. It's full of dates and events surrounding the history of colleges and churches and the people who founded them. One can easily sense Starr's interest in intellectual history as reflected in architecture, education and organized religion which, ironically, is a very East-coast way of looking at West-coast culture. Starr's book is excellent if you like that sort of thing, but it's not as tempting a study for those more fascinated with flesh and bone than brick and stone. Some could claim that it misses the fundamental essense of California culture altogether; a "new" civilization unencombered by pedigree and moulded by a beautiful and oppressive geography. This first book of the series is heavily centered around San Francisco and its related institutions.

Criticism aside, Dr. Starr's skill as a narrative historian is remarkable, and he should be considered in the same company as Henry Adams and Daniel Boorstin.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have taught California Geography in a Northern California college for more than 35 years. Kevin Starr's series "Americans and the California Dream" is probably the most brilliant extended meditation on the influence and significance of California, not only for its own citizens, but for the entire Republic and lands beyond. Don't expect a chronological account of the various aspects of California's political & economic historical events. Of course the author will consider these events; but he is much more interested in the rich complexity of cultural, philosophical, artistic, and psychological history. He is a wonderful storyteller, with the vivid, telling portraits that seem to emblemize in particular place and time. Highly recommended.
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