From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind

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9780684831343: From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind

Artfully weaving together the strands of California's social, political, and cultural history, Schwartz chronicles the state's turbulent life from the Spanish conquest through the Civil War, the labor movement, the Great Depression, and the birth of modern cultural radicalism in the Beatnik revolution and the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.

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Review:

Stephen Schwartz, author of From West to East, believes that California is a paradigm of radicalism, American style. "California was radical from the beginning," he writes. "...it stands apart... in that its cultural identity is that of radicality; not based on a radical ideology or ism per se but, experientially rather than conceptually, ever embodying the new." Moreover, Schwartz argues that the idea of American culture spreading from East to West with westward migration is actually a misconception; he posits that, in reality, a wholly unique, multicultural society formed in California has been influencing the nation ever since. From the Spanish Conquest through the Red Scare and to the Berkeley free-speech movement, Schwartz documents the state's history, weaving its disparate strands into a tapestry of labor unions and captains of industry, artists, politicians, soldiers, and martyrs. From Hollywood films to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and the presidency of Ronald Reagan, California has played a key part in helping shape America's image of herself, a role Stephen Schwartz attempts to chronicle in From West to East.

From Kirkus Reviews:

This attempt to place California at the center of our national consciousness starts out with great ambition but gets bogged down in an extensive look at Communism in the Bear Flag Republic. Schwartz, a San Francisco journalist and historian, offers brilliant views early on of California's creation first as a division of the Spanish colonies, based on its Dominican clergy, then as an outpost of Mexico, and finally as the last frontier of American ``manifest destiny.'' The Gold Rush and the building of the railroads prefigure the labor battles that dominate most of the rest of the book. Initially, Schwartz's depictions of unions fighting the newspaper industry in San Francisco and the land issues brought to bear by the railroads are lively and compelling. But once this landscape becomes sullied with the Trotsky-Stalin infighting taking place within worldwide Communism, his book starts losing ground. And after Stalin's purge and subsequent murder of Trotsky (via Soviet agents in California, according to Schwartz), he becomes a standard-bearer for the far left. Then, with the injuries of the indefensible Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, Khrushchev's revelations of the atrocities committed by Stalin, and the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Communism is all but destroyed in California. To his credit, Schwartz doesnt ignore the machinations within California that led to Communism's downfall, including the House Un-American Activities Committee (on which Californian Richard Nixon sat). Further, the author is able to shift easily between depictions of life and art, cogently demonstrating the impact of the state's political struggles on the writers John Steinbeck, Frank Norris, Allen Ginsberg, and others. Still, the last 30 years of California history are relegated to a mere 10 pages that cover in only a cursory way several very important historical events. This would have worked better as one volume in a multi- volume project--or as a straight-shooting labor history. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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