Books by Kevin Starr

Released: July 6, 2010

"In design and execution, every bit as worthy of the bridge it celebrates."
By California's foremost historian, a paean to perhaps "the most beautiful bridge ever built." Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 20, 2004

"An unfailingly interesting, highly readable contribution to Starr's grand series, which is drawing to a close. (Readers still have Starr's take on the 1960s to look forward to; the next volume, he's threatened, will be called Smoking the Dream.)"
In which Starr brings his magnificent, multivolume series Americans and the California Dream, the product of a quarter-century of work, up to the present. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1997

The fifth volume in Starr's grand and wide-ranging history of California (Endangered Dreams, 1995, etc.). Drawing on a wealth of sources, the author offers a panoramic account of the Golden State during the turning-point years before America's entry into WW II. While he first surveys communities (Big Sur, Carmel, Palm Springs, Pasadena, et al.) whose affluent lifestyles not only survived the Depression but also set the pace for the rest of the country, Starr moves on to profile the West Coast's academic enclaves (Berkeley, Palo Alto, Westwood) and great cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco). Covered as well are those who contributed to California's rich cultural heritage in literature (Cain, Chandler, Hammett, and West, to name but a few), painting (notably, the federally subsidized muralists who recorded the past of ``the state with a Mexican accent''), and photography (Ansel Adams, Edward Weston). Not too surprisingly, Starr devotes considerable attention to Hollywood and how its studio system marshaled the artistic resources of a generation to help America (and the wider world) through hard times. In an engrossing chapter felicitously titled ``Ich Bin ein Sñdkalifornier,'' he recounts how the rise of the Third Reich induced scores of German actors, composers, writers, and other intellectuals to seek refuge from Nazi oppression in filmdom's capital, where they promptly and thoroughly Europeanized the motion-picture industry. Using this productive context as a departure point, the author closes with a somber assessment of the ways in which California's ÇmigrÇ communities dealt with a global outbreak of anti-Semitism and (with fellow exile Leon Feuchtwanger) pondered whether Jewish civilization could reconstitute itself. A penetrating addition to an altogether splendid series, which (thanks to the broad appeal of its subject matter and period) could prove a breakout book. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1995

A first-rate, vivid, verbal diorama of the varied events that formed and reformed California during the convulsive decade before WW II, from the state's librarian and author of Inventing the Dream (1985, etc.). While Starr hits virtually all of the high points of the Golden State's Depression-era history, he's careful to set the stage for his tellingly detailed vignettes. Before addressing the protracted labor strife that culminated in a bitter 1934 strike effectively won by Harry Bridges and his International Longshoremen's Association, the author traces the radical roots of California unions back to the IWW, which was challenging the agricultural establishment before the turn of the century. Likewise, in probing another Left/Right confrontation—a gubernatorial campaign narrowly lost by Upton Sinclair running on the EPIC (End Poverty in California) platform—Starr offers an accessible account of the muckraking writer's views on utopian socialism. While reactionaries and revolutionaries were literally battling for California's sociopolitical soul on the waterfront, in the fields, and at other barricades, many government agencies and voluntary organizations struggled to cope with the influx of refugees from the Dust Bowl and other states where tenant farmers had been displaced by tractors—the cross-country migration documented in art and literature by Dorothea Lange, John Steinbeck, and others. Nor does Starr ignore the public works, which he felicitously observes helped complete California (still a preindustrial venue in the 1930s). Among other marvels of civil engineering in state or out, he focuses on aqueducts (like Hetch Hetchy), bridges (Bay, Golden Gate), canals, dams (Boulder/Hoover), ports, and tunnels. Complete with anecdotal particulars and big-picture perspectives, a stunningly effective chronicle of a vanguard state's coming of age. (25 halftones, not seen) Read full book review >