Rose Gowen's Reviews > The History of Alta California: A Memoir of Mexican California

The History of Alta California by Antonio Maria Osio
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Jan 27, 2010

it was amazing
Read from January 27 to March 08, 2010

It took me two hundred years to read this, but not because I didn't like it. I'm slow; and I was reading it in the evenings while I put my daughter to bed, and sometimes she was supportive of my project and other times she kicked me in the ribs and insisted I read the latest issue of babybug; and it is a confusing book.

It's confusing because it covers a tumultuous period in California history, the twenty-five years before the Mexican-American war, when it was a territory of Mexico, a period was marked by seemingly ceaseless revolts and rebellions. It is confusing because the author, Osio, seems to assume his audience knows something of the events and people he is writing about-- he is just giving his version-- but for the amateur, it's an overwhelming cast of characters. And, it is confusing because when he writes about events in which he played a part, he does not say "I" but, for instance, calls himself "the sindico" or "Sepulveda's friend."

I haven't come close to absorbing everything I read in this book, but I'm glad I read it, and I'm glad I have it. Unlike other accounts of Alta California, it was written very soon after the events described, and it was written out of Osio's own inspiration and feelings, not as a result of leading interviews (the major work on this period, Bancroft's History of California, was apparently compiled from interviews that preferred the words of American fur-trappers over those of the Mexican ranchers). Also, the scholarly apparatus (that's right: scholarly apparatus) is excellent. The notes are detailed and approachable. They fill in everything I missed in the text, and they're very good at explaining context.
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Rose Gowen I find this book nearly incomprehensible, yet it's very good. I'd probably have a better time if I would read the endnotes simultaneously with the main text, but flipping back and forth is too laborious for me. This is the advantage of footnotes.

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