Western History & Genealogy Blog

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New Books in Western History: Weeks in Review (7.14.09)

After a break of several weeks, a review of notices of new books of interest to students of the West. And, so, we consider a rapturous and pivotal celebration of Los Angeles reprinted; life on the streets of Portland and San Francisco; a white childhood in black Seattle; and the end(?) of California history ....

In the Los Angeles Times, Richard Rayner reviews a reissue of Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, an indispensable work of urban studies first published in 1971. Rayner notes how an appreciative and eclectic eye, and the fresh perspective as an Englishman abroad, led Banham not to disparage Los Angeles, but to celebrate its novelty and innovation. A copy of this reissue is on order, and will soon be available in the Western History & Genealogy department.

In L.A. Weekly, Nancy Rommelmann reviews Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, Debra Gwartney’s memoir of her loss of two of her four daughters to the streets of Pacific Coast cities. Gwartney, a former Newsweek reporter and instructor at Portland State University, is unsparing in her candor.  Copies are available at several branches, and a copy is available for use in our department.

In the Seattle Times, Mishna Wolff’s memoir of her life as a white child in a largely black Seattle neighborhood during the 1970s and 80s, entitled I'm Down, draws a rave review from Andrew Matson, who concludes that its humor and candor about race in the Emerald City make it “required reading.” I’m Down explores race, identity, and the relationships of family and community. Copies are available both in our circulating collection and the Western History & Genealogy department.

In the Boston Globe, Don Aucoin interviews Evan Schwartz, author of Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered America’s Great Story, a study of one of the great American allegorists, whose personal failures and the pervasive uncertainty of late-nineteenth-century America proved inspiration for his fantastic vision of Oz. A copy of Finding Oz has been ordered for our collection, and should shortly be available for use in the Western History & Genealogy department.

At NewWest, Jenny Shank reviews Rachel Dickinson’s Falconer on the Edge: A Man, His Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape of the American West. Dickinson explores not only the ancient practice of falconry, but also the determination of her central figure, Steve Chindgren, whose art has been fundamentally shaped by the disruption of the Western environment. Shank finds Falconer on the Edge “an incisive look at a modern devotee of a fascinating ancient practice, and Steve Chindgren emerges as a complex, driven figure keeping the sport of falconry alive in the American West.” A copy is available for use in our department.

Several different reviews have appeared of Kevin Starr’s Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963, the final, out-of-sequence work in a series by California’s emeritus state librarian. Starr returns again to his vision of California’s modern history as one shaped by the pursuit of a middle-class dream, as Benjamin Schwarz notes in The Atlantic. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Phyllis Filiberti Butler declares Starr’s final installment “an excellent addition to Starr's masterful series.” And in the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten observes that with Golden Dreams, Starr “has completed his transformation from the state's greatest historian to its indispensable one.”

Finally, more reviews have appeared for several works noted here in recent weeks, including reviews of Nick Reding’s horrific and important Methland: The Death of an American Small Town in the Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, and New York Times.

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