Aug 21, 10
Read in April, 2010
This is a dense history of the American West, although the author focuses mostly on California and Texas, with less space devoted to Oregon and Washington. I originally thought this book was going to be about the rise of Pacific Rim nations vis-a-vis America based on the title, so the emphasis on America was a surprise. That being said, the book is a fascinating portrait of how these four Western states and their key industries developed. I did not know of the importance that the defense industry and government spending on defense contracts played in the development of Silicon Valley and its companies until I read this book. That is but one of the fascinating revelations. The writing can be hard to follow at times; there are frequent references to movies, especially "Chinatown," which is an apparent favorite of the author. If you like the movie, then perhaps its oft-repeated references will delight you. If you don't, the dread at encountering yet another "Chinatown" movie reference can be palpable. The author does not write about all of the Western states equally, as I mentioned, and even in his portrait of California, there were more pages devoted to Los Angeles, which seems to hold a special place in the author's heart, than other parts of the state. The book thus seems to be a deeply personal endeavor for Bruce Cumings and at times his choices can seem quirky as opposed to essential. I did not share his enthusiasm for all of his topics, but I did find the book revelatory on many fronts. Cumings ultimately argues that America's "Atlantic" perspective--that is, its tendency culturally and politically to look toward the U.K. and Europe from the vantage point of the East Coast--is passé, hence his emphasis on "Pacific Ascendancy." In this sense, Cumings is persuasive. I do think America's West Coast and Pacific perspective will be increasingly important in the 21st century.