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Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, 1990-2003 Hardcover – September 14, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This behemoth of a book continues Starr's extraordinary multivolume history of California. Not since Toynbee's or the Durants' universal histories has a seven-volume history of anything been essayed and more or less completed, and no other American state has ever been the subject of such attention. But where Starr's previous volumes had the quality of reflective scholarly distance, this one—about California in recent years—is more journalistic reportage than history. As a result, it's neither as satisfying nor as authoritative as its predecessors. It's really reminder history—an attempt to recall to readers' minds the record of every significant event and development that Starr has scooped up from the news since 1990. But he offers no synthesis because he can't—we're too close to the events he records. So, with the author's characteristic verve and propulsive style, we get chapters on, for example, demographic trends, governors, notorious trials, gangs, the major cities, architecture, gay culture, the surfer scene—scarcely anything is left out. The trouble is, there's also no thematic spine to the book. We're left with a smorgasbord offering of the Golden State—delicious but not, like Starr's previous volumes, a digestible, integrated meal. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Movie star-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger predictably captures the spotlight in the epilogue to this sixth volume of Starr's monumental history of the Golden State. But the Austrian-born bodybuilder counts as only one of the colorful personalities that populate this capacious chronicle of the 14 years connecting the Santa Barbara County fire of 1990 with the gubernatorial firestorm of 2003. Readers meet, for instance, Marshall Herff Applewhite, the bizarre Heaven's Gate founder who persuaded 39 people to commit suicide at the cult's California headquarters; Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the environmental activist who frustrated the state's lumber industry for more than two years by living in a treetop; and John Walker Lindh, the California-born Taliban fighter captured in Afghanistan. But beyond the memorable personalities, Starr discerns a fascinating state culture that alternately inspires Californians with bold visions and entraps them in seductive illusions, now opens possibilities for personal and social fulfillment, now incubates psychological and political pathologies. On the right side of the boundary separating hope from delusion, readers see how Jerry Brown transforms Oakland by driving out the lethal drug trade and attracting new industries; on the far side, readers watch in disbelief as Californians indulge unlimited appetites for electricity while fantasizing about wilderness unspoiled by power plants. But in recounting how Californians have tested their utopian blueprints against reality, Starr illuminates ideals and exposes pipe dreams that will matter to readers all across the country. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
This is the concluding volume of the series which brings his original vision back to the present. That is a tough task to do - but Kevin rises to the mission. In an unvarnished fashion he presents the contradictions of the current California - but he renews the argument that he did in the first volume that we who live here - in the most diverse of the 50 states (economically, culturally, ethnically and believe it or not even politically!) have a set of aspirations and interests that make us different.
We rise, and fall, in different proportions to the rest of the country. We have been best with a series of former and current perils and yet remain in a mindset that is fundamentally different. This book presents clearly a lot of information about the highs and lows we have lived through in the last fifteen years.
Among the volumes in this series, each has presented a mix of history and reflection - but this with the first, is the most provocative and challenging. It is a good read - not to be rushed but to be savored!
A long book, but you don't have to read it at one sitting. It's well suited to you leisurely reading chapter by chapter, at your own pace. Myriad aspects of California are covered. Though, as someone else remarked, Starr says little about California north of San Francisco. The book is about events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a little bit on San Diego and the Central Valley. The narrative style lends itself well to drawing in the reader in an engaging fashion. Which bodes well in future years, when others who then read it will have been born long after all these events. The contemporaneous account given by Starr should endure as a lasting contribution to the historical record.
For Los Angeles, the early 90s get considerable play. Especially with the 1992 race riot and the 94 Northridge quake. All overlaid on a statewide recession, exacerbated by overbuilding and aerospace shrinking after the end of the Cold War.
Naturally, Starr delves into the dot com saga. Centred on Silicon Valley, "dreaming dreams of endless wealth". Of course, you can find entire books devoted to this era. But the chapter in this book suffices well to convey the strange feeling in the air, and all that money! An envious reader could speculate as to whether it might all happen again.
If you do happen to like this book, consider checking out his earlier texts. He has written a slew of these on various aspects of California history. Most with the same fluid grace of the present book. An enjoyable way to learn more about California.
Hollywood takes a back seat role in this contemporary history, which surprised me, yet you always see it lurking beneath the surface, especially in his numerous references to films that most readers would be aware of. What he does focus on is how small business is the driving force in California, illustrating how Silicon and Napa Valleys rose from cottage industries into leading world conglomerates. He also talks about how California was able to retool itself following the closure of military bases and loss of defense contracts in the 90's.
The impelling aspect of this book, however, is how cultural diversity has shaped the state, and how it continues to do so. He takes a look at the nature of development in the state, how communities have been impacted by immigration, the tensions that have arisen, the white flight, and eventually resettlement. Starr mostly deals with southern California, but takes in the Bay Area as well. You don't get much sense of what is occurring further to the north, with little more than passing references to Sacramento. To Starr's credit, he doesn't try to contain himself, but instead lay out a mosaic of impressions of the state, showing how California is constantly evolving and reshaping itself.