This attempt to place California at the center of our national consciousness starts out with great ambition but gets bogged...


FROM WEST TO EAST: California and the Making of the American Mind

This attempt to place California at the center of our national consciousness starts out with great ambition but gets bogged down in an extensive look at Communism in the Bear Flag Republic. Schwartz, a San Francisco journalist and historian, offers brilliant views early on of California's creation first as a division of the Spanish colonies, based on its Dominican clergy, then as an outpost of Mexico, and finally as the last frontier of American ""manifest destiny."" The Gold Rush and the building of the railroads prefigure the labor battles that dominate most of the rest of the book. Initially, Schwartz's depictions of unions fighting the newspaper industry in San Francisco and the land issues brought to bear by the railroads are lively and compelling. But once this landscape becomes sullied with the Trotsky-Stalin infighting taking place within worldwide Communism, his book starts losing ground. And after Stalin's purge and subsequent murder of Trotsky (via Soviet agents in California, according to Schwartz), he becomes a standard-bearer for the far left. Then, with the injuries of the indefensible Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, Khrushchev's revelations of the atrocities committed by Stalin, and the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Communism is all but destroyed in California. To his credit, Schwartz doesn't ignore the machinations within California that led to Communism's downfall, including the House Un-American Activities Committee (on which Californian Richard Nixon sat). Further, the author is able to shift easily between depictions of life and art, cogently demonstrating the impact of the state's political struggles on the writers John Steinbeck, Frank Norris, Allen Ginsberg, and others. Still, the last 30 years of California history are relegated to a mere 10 pages that cover in only a cursory way several very important historical events. This would have worked better as one volume in a multi-volume project--or as a straight-shooting labor history.

Pub Date: March 10, 1998


Page Count: 560

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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