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“Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963,” Kevin Starr’s latest, reviewed by Tim Rutten


The latest and concluding volume in Kevin Starr’s eight-volume series on the history of California, Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963, has now been published.  Tim Rutten reviewed the book in today’s (July 8, 2009) Los Angeles Times.

The review concludes as follows:

The unspoken subtext of this book is the loss inherent — and unavoidable — in California’s greatest era of success. Population growth, suburban expansion and unprecedented economic development did despoil many places that held a kind of sanctity for generations. One can celebrate, for example, the creative, almost Alexandrine ferment that cultural diversity has given Southern California and still (as native Californians of a certain age will) regret that our own children never will sit on their grandparents’ porch and smell the perfume of orange groves blooming around them — or drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego passing quaint little beach towns strung like white stucco beads along strands of empty sand.

One feels the loss and yet knows, as Starr so clearly does, that, whatever it ultimately may mean, the dream of California will most surely die if it is denied to those who come after us. Aside from his official credentials, Starr also is deeply schooled in Catholic theology, with a long association with the Dominicans at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, and something of the outlook of tragic Christianity informs this final volume. In an interview about California some years ago, he invoked that viewpoint’s patron saint, the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who “called it the ‘tragic sense of life’ — when bounty and beauty no longer come as unearned increment.” California, Starr said, “is increasingly difficult, competitive, and aware of enormous challenges that are forcing its citizens and institutions to struggle mightily. The typical American dreamer can no longer merely say, as he once did: ‘The solution is that I have come to California.’ The ante has been upped.”

With “Golden Dreams,” Starr has completed a magnificent gift to the people of his native state. No other in the union possesses so intelligent, humane and comprehensive a synoptic account of its origins and development. That’s all of a piece with the author’s convincing notion of California’s singularity. He has given his contemporaries and generations to come a story filled with heroic examples and tragic caution. Most of all, it is a series of histories that — like any life worth dreaming of — is worthwhile from beginning to end.

The blog will link to more reviews of the book as they become available.

–Frank Gruber


5 thoughts on ““Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963,” Kevin Starr’s latest, reviewed by Tim Rutten

  1. I’m looking forward to Kevin’s latest, and I can see why the tragic tone may be fitting. Certainly today’s headlines suggest that the bloom is off the rose.

    Some time back, I included Joan Didion’s “Where I Was From” on my California Culture reading list at San Francisco State University. Pretty much straight elegy. But when we followed that up with “Real Women Have Curves,” which focuses on a first-generation Latino family in Los Angeles, I realized that someone forgot to tell California’s newest residents that the party is over. For them, it’s just starting. That notion tempers my sense of tragedy and elegy.

  2. Just a note from Frank Gruber — fyi, my wife gave me the new book for my birthday and I’ve just started reading it. Prof. Starr has an interview in the

  3. I was supposed to finish that by saying that Hector Tobar interviewed Prof. Starr for his column in today’s LAT and they seem to agree that California is still a good place. I’ll post a link to it on the blog.

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