Cover image for The seven states of California : a natural and human history
The seven states of California : a natural and human history
Fradkin, Philip L.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, 1997.

Physical Description:
xix, 474 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Henry Holt, 1995.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F861 .F75 1995C Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What explains California? To a large extent, as Philip Fradkin's rich, exuberant portrait makes clear, it's the multiple landscapes and the different states of mind that best define America's most populous, diverse, and fabled state. Fradkin divides California into seven distinct ecological and cultural provinces--from the hot deserts and high peaks to the rich agricultural Central Valley, the redwood forests of the north and sandy beaches of the south. Describing geographical regions based on their emblematic landscape features, Fradkin intertwines natural and social history.

Author Notes

Philip Fradkin is the author of six highly acclaimed books on the American West, including the newly updated A River No More (California, 1996). A former environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times , he also served as Assistant Secretary of the California Resources Agency, as Western editor for Audubon magazine, and has taught nonfiction writing at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He shared in a Pulitzer prize awarded to the Los Angeles Times for coverage of the 1965 Watts racial conflict.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this ambitious and highly readable attempt to explain California, Fradkin (An American Nuclear Tragedy) reveals how the state's landscape has helped shape its destiny. Hanging his narrative on geological features of seven regions of the state (e.g., a series of dry lakes, a mountain, a lava bed, an earthquake fault), he puts heavy emphasis on California's violent past and present: the destruction of the Modoc Indians, anti-Chinese pogroms, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII, the death of James Dean (``a California life, a California death, a California life after death''), a serial killer in Marin County, drive-by shootings so common they are no longer news. Into these and numerous other topics Fradkin weaves personal impressions of this richly textured land and its restless population acquired during his 35 years residing in the state. The vision throughout is distinctly negative. As to California's future, Fradkin sees it as ``a dark, chaotic time,'' a statement typical of this masterly but withering interpretation of the Golden State. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Nowhere in the US are contrasts in landscape more spectacular across short distances than in California. Fradkin, a journalist and environmentalist, illustrates this point through his assessment of the "Golden State" as a composite of seven radically different places, tied together by historical-political edict. The seven "states" are logical geographic subdivisions or regions, as estranged from one another as Death Valley is from the redwood groves of the northeast coast. Incorporating observations collected during decades of residence and a very broad range of secondary archival materials and original field interviews, Fradkin presents a portrait of each region in turn, often beginning with Native American cultures and the experience of Hispanic and Anglo contact, followed by a historical account of early settlement as a context for the evolution of present-day landscapes. Fradkin relates descriptions of each region to a specific settlement or area, so the reader learns, for example, the details of the Donner tragedy at the Sierra summit and that early white residents of Eureka were formidable racists who advocated murdering Indians and driving Chinese from the state. Compellingly written, with extensive source notes and monochrome photographs. Strongly recommended for libraries as a basic reference on the state. All levels. K. B. Raitz University of Kentucky