ENDANGERED DREAMS: The Great Depression in California by Kevin Starr

ENDANGERED DREAMS: The Great Depression in California

Email this review


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.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0195100808
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.