Knowledgeable, wise and compelling, Farmer’s book uncovers the subtle and surprising webs connecting the social, cultural...




How did the Golden State become green?

Early explorers in California, seeking a mythical island “adjacent to Earthly Paradise,” found a landscape starkly different from today’s: a savannah and chaparral, with grassy hills, dry and brown much of the year. Few areas had abundant trees. Redwoods and sequoias clustered in the north, a few species of pine and oak grew at the central coast, and the Joshua tree made its home in the desert. As Farmer (History/Stony Brook Univ.; On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape, 2008, etc.) reveals in this illuminating, panoramic history, the state’s native trees soon had much company. In the 18th century, Spanish Franciscans imported fruit and nut trees, which they planted around their missions. After the gold rush in 1849, many newcomers from the East “missed the shade, the green, and the chatter of songbirds.” Others saw trees as economic opportunity. Farmer focuses on four species affected by human intervention: the endemic coast redwood, heedlessly cut down by lumber companies; citrus trees, which created “a landscape of social inequality, racial injustice, and environmental pollution”; palms, a symbol of glamor to southern Californians; and the Tasmanian blue gum, a species of fast-growing Australian eucalyptus, imported to “provide fuel, improve the weather, boost farm productivity, defeat malaria, preserve watersheds, and thwart a looming timber famine.” As early as the 1880s, planters deemed eucalyptus a disaster: Wind toppled them easily, they proved to be a “venomous feeder” of soil nutrients, and they grew so fast that other plants could not thrive. Moreover, their wood contained so much water that it was useless for lumber. Farmer makes clear that greed was not the sole cause of bad decisions. Naturalists seeking spiritual enlightenment, environmentalists beset with “botanical xenophobia” and the government were just as likely to proceed without considering complex and fragile ecological consequences.

Knowledgeable, wise and compelling, Farmer’s book uncovers the subtle and surprising webs connecting the social, cultural and natural worlds of California, and the planet.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-07802-2

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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