Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963

In This Review

Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963
By Kevin Starr
Oxford University Press, 2009
576 pp. $34.95

The latest volume of Starr's magisterial history of California covers the post-World War II era, when California's prosperity and cultural exuberance astonished the world -- and when many of the seeds of the state's current travails were sown. The diversity and complexity of midcentury California make this a difficult story to tell; Starr's technique of focusing sequentially on different cities and different topics helps readers see the state whole. His mastery of the history of the state allows Starr to write with equal authority about the rise of the freeway and the rise of Eastern spirituality, about the influence of the jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and the role of the Beach Boys. In particular, war played an enormous role in the shaping of modern California: World War II accelerated California's growth, as the federal government created a manufacturing base there for the defense industry that led to a massive migration of African Americans to the West Coast, and Cold War defense expenditures not only fueled California's economy but also financed the University of California system. Although Starr sometimes struggles to balance the many subjects and narrative strands that make up his story, Golden Dreams remains a landmark study of the greatest U.S. state.

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