The Books That Explain California - The World News

The Books That Explain California

Here are the new entries, and some of what readers shared about them, lightly edited:

“The Last Days of the Late Great State of California” by Curt Gentry (1968)

“The novel begins with an account of a massive earthquake on the San Andreas fault that threatens to split the westernmost part of California into the Pacific Ocean. This catastrophic event is the basis for a look back on major events in the Golden State’s political and social history. Ronald Reagan’s campaign for governor in 1966 and the Watts Riots of 1965 are described in detail. The epilogue lays out what the rest of the world would do without, including the significant amount of food produced by California’s important agricultural industry. It is an entertaining history lesson slipped into a story about something we Californians often muse about: Will the Big One slide our coastal cities into the ocean?” — Allison Wonder, San Ramon

“There There” by Tommy Orange (2018)

“Orange’s novel ‘There There’ is a story unlike any I’ve read. With 12 main characters, all of which shine on their own without feeling rushed or incomplete, their paths converge at the Oakland Powwow. This book is a master lesson in storytelling and provides a unique look at the urban Native American experience.” — Jennifer Nuñez, San Jose

“Palo Alto” by Malcolm Harris (2023)

“I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley in the ’50s and ’60s and had a very simple and idyllic impression of the contributions that the valley made to society — i.e., Hewlett-Packard and other early tech innovators. The author chillingly brings us to the current time and all the frightening outcomes of the earlier, relatively simple days. The book is long, but well worth reading.” — Hester Lyons, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Slouching Toward Bethlehem” by Joan Didion (1968)

“The centerpiece, her report from Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s, feels so much more honest and curious than the usual rose-colored boomer reminiscing I read about that period. Her writing makes me nostalgic for places I’ve never been, like the hot, quaint Sacramento of her youth.” — David Burris, Los Angeles

“Up and Down California in 1860-1864” by William Henry Brewer (1930)

“This is an entertaining, readable journal describing conditions in the state in its infancy, written during Brewer’s tenure as a distinguished, field-going member of the California Geological Survey. Notable is his description of the Great Flood of 1862, with its foreshadowing of potential disaster for Californians today.” — Jeff Stone, Yreka

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