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Southern California: An Island on the Land
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Southern California: An Island on the Land

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  137 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Packed With Magnificent Material On Southern California's Galaxy of Person Alities, This Book Provides Insights Into Subjects Ranging From The Origins Hollywood To The Flowering of International-Style Architecture. and It Does That By Looking At Personalities As Diverse As Helen Hunt Jackson To Aimee Semple McPherson, Huntington The Finan- Cier To Hatfield The Rainmaker.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 15th 1980 by Gibbs Smith (first published December 31st 1970)
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Like Mike Davis before Pynchon, Carey McWilliams presents a sunny but not-too-sunny version of Los Angeles, where nothing is quite so sinister as Nathanael West makes it out to be, but everything is a great deal more complicated than the boosters want it to be. McWilliams shakes the palm trees until rats come flying, but he doesn't try to hunt them down, he just wants you to know that, yes, there are rats up there.

The basic premise is this: every weird, bad, bizarre, stupid, inconceivable thing
Mar 09, 2013 Ian marked it as to-read
"The climate of Southern California is palpable: a commodity that can be labeled, priced and marketed. […] The climate is the region. It has attracted unlimited resources of manpower and wealth, made possible intensive agricultural development, and located specialized industries, such as motion pictures. […] For the charm of Southern California is largely to be found in the air and the light. Light and air are really one element: indivisible, mutually interacting, thoroughly interpenetrated" (Mc ...more
A general and journalistic account of Los Angeles, but a detailed and rather fascinating read for all of that. Written in 1947, it is very much of its time with some sweeping generalizations and quick, delicious and totally unsubstantiated impressions. On the other hand there is a well written and researched and devastatingly detailed sections on the Indian genocide in California, which I was not expecting at all and very happy to find. Somehow I thought this was history only recently acknowledg ...more
Finally read the whole book after having read the last two chapters for an Urban History course in university. While we only read two chapters in this book, we also used most of the other references McWilliams refers to, so I recommend those as well.
Great perspective on the creation of Southern California, it's cultural isolation, and why it's followed by the world. Most interesting was that many of the problems discussed in the book, originally published in the 40's, is that they are still the
Jon Boorstin
Though it was written in the 1940's, this is the essential book on Southern California. McWilliams writes clearly and eloquently, and as a reporter and government official, he has a broad and deep knowledge of what he writes. This has the best brief descriptions of our special climate and flora, of the growth of Los Angeles in opposition to San Francisco, of the labor and political travails that defined the city. He is writing just a California is about to peak. It provides an invaluable foundat ...more
Brittany Batong
This is a fascinating read, not only because it comes from the perspective of someone writing in 1946, but in spite of that fact. More than once I found myself thinking, “Wow, it really hasn’t changed that much.” True, you see the differences in obvious things, such as the use of outdated terms for certain ethnic/cultural groups; and McWilliams is a few times hampered by assumptions that were prevalent in his own time (specifically the assumption of the inferiority of Eastern medicine or the rel ...more
For a book published in the 1940s, I can't believe how fascinating and relevant "Southern California: An Island on the Land" was in 2012 for this Angeleno. I couldn't put the book down. I also couldn't believe how much my past history lessons needed tweaking. Thank you, Mr. McWilliams for your enlightened cultural commentary on the history of my beautiful land. I wish you were still with us.
Dushan Milinovich
If there is anything you ever wanted to know about Southern California before the 1950's, it's found in this book. I thought that it had too many statistics, though I understand why they were necessary. It's also a great resource for more reading, as it references many other books in the development of the tale of Los Angeles and SoCal.
Elisa Parhad
Wow. This book made my mind explode with musings about my new home. Written in the 1940s, An Island in the Land is outdated, but still relevant to this crazy land between the desert mountains and the "sundown sea." I'll be returning to this little gem again and again...
Nov 15, 2014 Steven rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Bryan Alexander
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent story of Southern California from the mission days to the 1940s, entertaining and informative. Carey McWilliams was a major participant in that history from the 1920s on, perhaps best known for his role in the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial. A must-read.
This book provides a brief history of and description of Southern California's geography, history and culture of the 1920s to the 1950s. Looking from the vantage point of 2010 SoCal after having been away for ten years, I learned how little SoCal had changed.
Apr 01, 2009 Ann added it
Fascinating look at the development of Los Angeles from its earliest days--political, sociological, cultural. McWilliams, a superb writer and dedicated leftist, was editor of the Nation after years of being a newspaper man in Los Angeles.
David Rainey
Loved this book. It takes you back to before urban sprawl, when there were still orange groves in the area. It's quite a shock when you compare the author's So. California to what it is today.
Written in 1946, McWilliams clarifies what it is to be an Angeleno. As someone who grew up there, if she only knew what was coming just AFTER 1946!
Essential history of Southern California. The version I read was titled "Southern California Country." And it dated from the 60s, I believe.
Even though this book was written more than 60 years ago, it remains the most comprehensive book covering southern California's history.
My favorite book on Southern California history and the interest groups whose conflicts that began decades ago have ramifications today.
An in-depth history of Southern California; McWilliams finished it in the 1940s.
Just re-read it and am even more fascinated.
A great book on SoCal. I read it years ago and an adding it here so I will remember the title.
Dryer than the L.A. "River", but you'll learn a thing or two. Good for Angelenos and Transgelenos.
Karla Callejas c
A classic. Good intro to history of Southern California.
McWilliams is the maestro.
Jan 26, 2008 Erin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who live in L.A.
great. GREAT.
Tricia Talbot
Tricia Talbot marked it as to-read
Jan 31, 2015
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Jan 26, 2015
Blake added it
Jan 26, 2015
Phyll Pope
Phyll Pope marked it as to-read
Jan 25, 2015
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Jan 25, 2015
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“I think of the view from a favorite arroyo in the late afternoon, the east slope still bathed in sunlight, the far slope already full of dark shade and lengthening shadows. A cool breeze, as one can look across the plains, out over miles of homes and trees, and hear the faraway hum of traffic on the high-ways and see the golden light filtering through the mist-laden air.” 1 likes
“To own an orange grove in Southern California is to live on the real gold coast of American agriculture.” 1 likes
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