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Author Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with Cali Author Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with California's relentless growth. This is a heartfelt, beautifully written book about the land and the people who have worked it--from gold miners to wheat ranchers to small fruit farmers and today's Big Ag. Since the beginning, Californians have redirected rivers, drilled ever-deeper wells and built higher dams, pushing the water supply past its limit. The Dreamt Land weaves reportage, history, and memoir to confront the "Golden State" myth in riveting fashion. No other chronicler of the West has so deeply delved into the empires of agriculture that drink so much of the water. The nation's biggest farmers--the nut king, grape king and citrus queen--tell their story here for the first time. It is a tale of politics and hubris in the arid West, of imported workers left behind in the sun and the fatigued earth that is made to give more even while it keeps sinking. But when drought turns to flood once again, all is forgotten as the farmers plant more nuts and the developers build more houses. Arax, the native son, is persistent and tough as he treks from desert to delta, mountain to valley. What he finds is hard earned, awe-inspiring, tragic and revelatory. In the end, his compassion for the land becomes an elegy to the dream that created California and now threatens to undo it.


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Author Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with Cali Author Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with California's relentless growth. This is a heartfelt, beautifully written book about the land and the people who have worked it--from gold miners to wheat ranchers to small fruit farmers and today's Big Ag. Since the beginning, Californians have redirected rivers, drilled ever-deeper wells and built higher dams, pushing the water supply past its limit. The Dreamt Land weaves reportage, history, and memoir to confront the "Golden State" myth in riveting fashion. No other chronicler of the West has so deeply delved into the empires of agriculture that drink so much of the water. The nation's biggest farmers--the nut king, grape king and citrus queen--tell their story here for the first time. It is a tale of politics and hubris in the arid West, of imported workers left behind in the sun and the fatigued earth that is made to give more even while it keeps sinking. But when drought turns to flood once again, all is forgotten as the farmers plant more nuts and the developers build more houses. Arax, the native son, is persistent and tough as he treks from desert to delta, mountain to valley. What he finds is hard earned, awe-inspiring, tragic and revelatory. In the end, his compassion for the land becomes an elegy to the dream that created California and now threatens to undo it.

30 review for The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Woolf

    Note: The second-to-last chapter of this book, titled "960-acre babies", is about my extended family. Jack Woolf, the family patriarch, is my grandfather; Stuart Woolf, his son and successor, is my father. The reception of the book within our family has been mixed: it does not present us in a positive light, and some feel it is factually inaccurate. (This latter group includes me, but the inaccuracies are minor: my brother Wiley, for example, was not named after Wylie Giffen, who led Sun Maid in Note: The second-to-last chapter of this book, titled "960-acre babies", is about my extended family. Jack Woolf, the family patriarch, is my grandfather; Stuart Woolf, his son and successor, is my father. The reception of the book within our family has been mixed: it does not present us in a positive light, and some feel it is factually inaccurate. (This latter group includes me, but the inaccuracies are minor: my brother Wiley, for example, was not named after Wylie Giffen, who led Sun Maid in the early 20th century.) Family publicity aside, this is the best book about Fresno, if not the Central Valley, I have ever read. It is well-written, coherent, and relevant. I wish for nothing but its enduring success and hope it will be read across the state. It is also the only book I have ever read whose content provides direct context to my life and the lives of many people I know. I wish it had been published earlier, perhaps when I was a teenager.

  2. 4 out of 5

    MGF

    A fascinating and well-written history of the Central Valley in CA told mainly through the lens of farmers. Based on that description alone, I would agree that it doesn’t exactly scream ‘Read me!’, until you realize the skill of the author (a former LA Times reporter) to weave the foundational history (eg gold rush) with the current challenges of water, drought, law, immigration, environment, and capitalism - oh, and the ego of man to bend nature to its will. Ultimately, it’s a story of America. A fascinating and well-written history of the Central Valley in CA told mainly through the lens of farmers. Based on that description alone, I would agree that it doesn’t exactly scream ‘Read me!’, until you realize the skill of the author (a former LA Times reporter) to weave the foundational history (eg gold rush) with the current challenges of water, drought, law, immigration, environment, and capitalism - oh, and the ego of man to bend nature to its will. Ultimately, it’s a story of America. Highly recommend.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    If you are a land owner in California this feels like a must read! An excellent history of California’s water woes punctuated with many stories of the local growers. I listened to the book and was rapt to his every word, it’s a long book, maybe 13 hours, my batteries don’t last that long so forced to make this a two day venture, I yearned to get back to it! I am an avid gardener with a deep interest in nuturing the land, was gardening the entire times I listened and enjoyed hearing all aspects. If you are a land owner in California this feels like a must read! An excellent history of California’s water woes punctuated with many stories of the local growers. I listened to the book and was rapt to his every word, it’s a long book, maybe 13 hours, my batteries don’t last that long so forced to make this a two day venture, I yearned to get back to it! I am an avid gardener with a deep interest in nuturing the land, was gardening the entire times I listened and enjoyed hearing all aspects. I really enjoyed the family dynamics of pomegranates and citrus. I live on an irrigation canal dug by the gold miners in the 1800s, a miners inch has greater meaning to me than most, but I still think it’s an excellent story about California’s history.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    ”I’ve gone through three of these (boom bust agricultural) cycles [connected to drought / flood cycle] , and none of them has been crazier than this one. In my grandfather’s day, if you didn’t have your land paid off, you couldn’t add a single acre. Today, you can be carrying a debt of eight grand an acre, and they’ll let you borrow twelve grand an acre to plant more almonds and pistachios. Equity and cheap interest rates means oversupply. And oversupply means a demand for water than cannot be m ”I’ve gone through three of these (boom bust agricultural) cycles [connected to drought / flood cycle] , and none of them has been crazier than this one. In my grandfather’s day, if you didn’t have your land paid off, you couldn’t add a single acre. Today, you can be carrying a debt of eight grand an acre, and they’ll let you borrow twelve grand an acre to plant more almonds and pistachios. Equity and cheap interest rates means oversupply. And oversupply means a demand for water than cannot be met. The Federal Reserve can print all the phony money it wants. But it can’t print water. We can put off the national debt, but we can’t put off the day of reckoning out here.: This is so brilliant. It deserves every nonfiction award there is this year. The Dreamt Land goes straight to my favorites shelf. While it discusses the specific case of California, it offers an object lesson to any situation where people are rushing headlong to make quick money that depends on natural resources, without anyone—themselves, the government, finance—being honest about how the natural world works. It is also an eloquent paean to California’s rich central valley, and a tribute to those who farm it responsibly. It recognizes the wild nature and heroic ideas of the people who built the systems that transport water from one end of the state to the other. It’s brutal about the deception and selfishness that leaves sunken valley floors as the aquifers collapse (permanently), and produces salt and selenium-soaked soil and groundwater. Arax’s Armenian grandparents came to the valley a century ago, but long ago lost their farm. He has spent his career, as an LA Times reporter and author, researching regional people and issues. The value of this book is that it doesn’t point at one villain or a simple explanation. Arax tracks dozens of actions and broken promises from a wide variety of players. He interviews farmers and lets them speak for themselves. He studies documents and court decisions from the gold rush onward. He travels thousands of miles, actually looking at the land and the canals. Boiled down, however, the argument is this: every argument for a water project has said it’s necessary to support current acreage, and every time a project is built, it’s led to putting more acreage into production. Or more housing developments. And almost always the additional acreage is marginal. In addition, the promised mitigating measures seldom materialize, in particular the drainage system that was supposed to remove salt laden irrigation runoff from the west side of the central valley’s alkaline soil. I love Arax’s writing about our state. Sometimes it expresses pain or frustration, other times it paints a picture of the land and its processes. I drive past the packing house where I boxed peaches and plums as a kid and come to a stop in a vineyard outside Selma, where the raisin harvest is about to begin. The thermometer has shot beyond one hundred degrees for fourteen straight days. Three farmworkers have died in this heat. The vines haven’t drunk water for thirty days, but that is by design. The dry condition lets the farmer reconfigure the dirt rows between the vines, building a slight slope that angles toward the sun and allows water, in the event of a freak rain, to drain off the grapes baking on paper trays. Down the dirt road that runs through the vineyard, Honda Civics on their third owners line the path…Not a worker can be seen…a skinny young man…he parts the curtain of cane and leaf and steps completely inside the vine, hacking away at its purple bunches with one hand and letting the bunches plop into a plastic tub he holds with his other hand. It takes him forty-eight seconds to fill the tub. Then he bends over in the opposite direction and spills the fruit across a paper tray in the row’s middle, in the full sun. This is the oven where the grapes will bake. Two of my great-great-grandfathers came to the valley in the 1850s and 1860s, and tried for decades to dry farm. Other ancestors came in the 1910s, as railroad worker, electrical engineer, would-be actress. Our city folk became teachers, rocket engineer, social worker, doctor, and so on. Then my sister married a soil and water researcher with the University of California’s Agricultural Field Station, and spent the last thirty years in the valley. Once again the cycle of water and harvest was part of the conversation at family gatherings. So this book feels very close to my land, and I am grateful to Mark Arax for teaching me so much about it. In the wet years of 2005 and 2006, Resnick [of Pom-Wonderful infamy] had more water than even his trees could drink. So much water came down the aqueduct that he could afford to sell some of the surplus from the water bank. This was public water he was selling back to the state through a program called the Environmental Water Account….The program allowed Resnick to masquerade as an environmentalist while raiding California’s ecological kitty. He was paying the state anywhere from $28 to $86 an acre-foot for the water he deposited in the bank. He was then selling this water back to the state—and the fish—for $200 an acre-foot… I listened to Arax narrate his book, and I highly recommend the audible version.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Rynecki

    I’m a bit more than halfway through this book. At 530 pages it is not a light summer read. It is, however, a beautifully written book and one that lots of people ought to be required to read - particularly California politicians. It’s the story of water, the California land grab, politics, agriculture in the arid West, greed, and ingenuity.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Julianne Burk

    A brilliant blend of investigative research, history and storytelling. There’s even poetry in these lines. A massive accomplishment by Mr. Arax!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    To get my one complaint out of the way: this book needed more maps! There's one basic one at the beginning, but the author references many different geographies than are labeled on it, and in different levels of detail. Especially as a non-Californian, I very much wanted a little more illustration of exactly what kinds of places I was dealing with in each chapter. A fascinating read overall - natural and man-made history, California mythology and myth-busting in all its contradictions. I love the To get my one complaint out of the way: this book needed more maps! There's one basic one at the beginning, but the author references many different geographies than are labeled on it, and in different levels of detail. Especially as a non-Californian, I very much wanted a little more illustration of exactly what kinds of places I was dealing with in each chapter. A fascinating read overall - natural and man-made history, California mythology and myth-busting in all its contradictions. I love these stories of the massive human ingenuity it took to colonize and engineer such a vast ecosystem and turn its natural flood/drought cycles to something amenable to industrial-scale agriculture, told with the understanding that ingenuity does not equal wisdom. And told with empathy for people - not just the farmers and laborers on the land, but a whole state and country that rely on these water systems and agricultural production - who have now worked ourselves into an impossible situation. Raises important questions of what makes something a public versus private resource and how to approach an increasingly complicated and existential challenge.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    “Of the fifty-four thousand, how many will make it back here, you think?” “If we’re lucky, maybe seven or eight,” she said. It was at that point that I fully understood what we as a people had done. A river is a highly dynamic force that possesses incredible powers to heal itself. Like the salmon, it had been coded to find its way back. But our destruction of the San Joaquin—six dams upstream, a seventh dam right here, a flow devoted to agriculture with only a trickle left over for fish—was an i “Of the fifty-four thousand, how many will make it back here, you think?” “If we’re lucky, maybe seven or eight,” she said. It was at that point that I fully understood what we as a people had done. A river is a highly dynamic force that possesses incredible powers to heal itself. Like the salmon, it had been coded to find its way back. But our destruction of the San Joaquin—six dams upstream, a seventh dam right here, a flow devoted to agriculture with only a trickle left over for fish—was an incredible force of its own. No degree of noble gesture, certainly not $1.5 billion, would bring the old run back to life. In the 1940s, even before the last dam went in, the spring run had dwindled to fifty thousand or so salmon. We would be quite blessed now to see seven or eight fingerlings make their way back home. “ P. 514. Mark Arax is a fine writer. Dreamt Land is beautifully written and well researched. Arax whose parents and grandparents took a shot a being California farmers, expresses regret that his family didn’t pursue this way of life. This book documents and exposes much of the political manipulation, various forms of corruption, and out right theft of the most valuable commodity in California—Water. Arax’s familiarity with much of the land and personalities he is writing about gives readers an opportunity to see effects that the cycles of drought and flood have on those seeking to make a living or a fortune from the land. He demonstrates how pumping underground aquifers has caused the ground to sink and how damming the rivers adversely effects wildlife. I always thought of California as the land or oranges and grapes, but it seems that nut growers (pistachios and almonds) are making the big bucks. The growing population of California also calls for more water to be sent to cities. But by far most water is used in ever expanding agriculture. California is always beautiful in my mind. The weather and the state’s magnificent scenery and culture have a lot to offer visitors or future residents. But how many people will be too many? How much agricultural growth can the state support? A fascinating reading about the 5th largest economy in the world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is the ultimate story about CA and water explaining more than you care. We read this for Book Club, otherwise I would have missed it. Very easy and interesting read. More than you would think.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

    Mark Arax is a great writer and story teller and here he tells an incredible tale of the monumental re-plumbing of the rivers of central California to serve the needs of (Big) agriculture and growing cities and subdivisions. The story is astounding. Arax provides great context for the California boom-bust, drought-flood culture and mentality that leads to this re-plumbing by going back to the Spanish settlement of California and the discovery of gold in the 1840's at Sutter's Mill. Throughout th Mark Arax is a great writer and story teller and here he tells an incredible tale of the monumental re-plumbing of the rivers of central California to serve the needs of (Big) agriculture and growing cities and subdivisions. The story is astounding. Arax provides great context for the California boom-bust, drought-flood culture and mentality that leads to this re-plumbing by going back to the Spanish settlement of California and the discovery of gold in the 1840's at Sutter's Mill. Throughout the book the reader is introduced to fascinating characters that range from the wealthiest growers of whatever crop is in economic vogue, to the Latino workers that move north to work the agriculture. Arax always provides just the right amount of back-story on each character and has a knack for finding the contradictions and humanity (read, flaws) that allow us to feel we know their essence. One thing that I really liked is that Arax refuses to turn any of these people into villains. This would be easy to do. Instead, we are presented with people who's actions are generally the product of good intentions and the belief that they are doing good for their communities and the world. But doing good when your ag land is frequently in drought requires a lot of water and this book tells you how landowners go and get that water themselves, or induce politicians to get it for them. Whether pumping ground water or building canals to re-divert rivers, these actions are all heedless of the vast damage done to the natural and human environments and communities along the way. This becomes the take-away: that people will delude themselves; that it's ok to take it all, and at public expense and consequences be dammed. In the end, this is a reflection of all of us, regardless of your political leanings. An eye opening, well-written and important book. It makes me want to read more from Mark Arax.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    A disturbing and timely book about climate change and the history of American exploitation of California. The Spanish then the Mexicans enslaved the Native Americans but Sutter and American settlers brought money and technology to a whole new level when they arrived. One of Sutter’s men did discover a small nougat of gold and was overheard trying to verify it with a mining specialist in town. The rush of miners and people searching for gold brought about the dissemination of the natives who were A disturbing and timely book about climate change and the history of American exploitation of California. The Spanish then the Mexicans enslaved the Native Americans but Sutter and American settlers brought money and technology to a whole new level when they arrived. One of Sutter’s men did discover a small nougat of gold and was overheard trying to verify it with a mining specialist in town. The rush of miners and people searching for gold brought about the dissemination of the natives who were virtually wiped out, but the mining tactics of miners for gold, ruined the land for many farmers and ranchers. The lack of water in CA grew worse and much was mixed with salt and pollution. Some good water was merely run into the sea. As farming and ranching became popular, more water needed to be brought from other places to be used and crops that ruined soil or too much water were used. In the current times, farmers and ranchers, who are huge corporations, take water from communities and retain water rights to 80% of CA’s water legally. Cities are given 20%. But small farmers and ranchers and small towns, often occupied by Mexican Americans or African Americans, have no rights at all. Most are run out of the area due to lack of water. A stunning and disturbing tale of greedy corporate men who will run off the poor and endanger species of animals and plants to get more money. They are everything as an impediment to get what they want. Denying climate change as it happens around them is a familiar tactic. I was surprised at how absorbed I was in the book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Craig Petinak

    For anybody thinking their opinion about water in California is well-informed, read this book and you'll learn how the history of how we arrived at today's (and tomorrow's) situation is far more nuanced than you could possibly imagine. As a grandchild of a small acreage farmer in the Central Valley, this book connects me to my ancestors in so many ways that I lost track of the stream. Really wish I could have read this book with my own grandfather and my great-great grandfather, Thomas Law Reed, For anybody thinking their opinion about water in California is well-informed, read this book and you'll learn how the history of how we arrived at today's (and tomorrow's) situation is far more nuanced than you could possibly imagine. As a grandchild of a small acreage farmer in the Central Valley, this book connects me to my ancestors in so many ways that I lost track of the stream. Really wish I could have read this book with my own grandfather and my great-great grandfather, Thomas Law Reed, whose sprawling ranch along the Kings River led to the founding of Reedley. And, thank you to Mark Arax for applying his amazing writing skills to this opus that clearly gripped him for years. This is the 3rd book of his that I've read, and I hope it isn't his last.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mihai

    If there is one book to read on water AND the history of California (which are essentially synonymous), this would be it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    Brilliant telling of the history of California through the lens of water use. Arax's writing is superb.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    This is my first DNF of the year, and I'm sorry it had to end this way. I really am interested in this topic and it is clearly a massive effort of research, but the writing doesn't work for me. It's just too long, too wordy, too pretentious. I didn't quite make it halfway through and I kept getting distracted while reading. After 10 days of wondering if I'm just too basic to get into this book, I remembered I'm not (that) basic and have read a lot of challenging books, plus this being an area of This is my first DNF of the year, and I'm sorry it had to end this way. I really am interested in this topic and it is clearly a massive effort of research, but the writing doesn't work for me. It's just too long, too wordy, too pretentious. I didn't quite make it halfway through and I kept getting distracted while reading. After 10 days of wondering if I'm just too basic to get into this book, I remembered I'm not (that) basic and have read a lot of challenging books, plus this being an area of keen interest to me, I shouldn't be having this much trouble. Maybe someday I'll pick up the audiobook if I have a million hours to kill, and finish it off. Because I would like to know the rest of the story but it was just too much of a slog. The author also seems to assume you've read his other books as prerequisites. E.g. "as I wrote about in my book ___", or "this reminded me of when I came here to investigate my father's murder" WHAT. Sorry dude, not everyone who picked up this book is your number one fan, stay within scope please. It is a shame, but clearly a case of a book and a reader not being the right match. I imagine this book will be hard for a lot of people which is too bad because I think it is an important and interesting topic that could be more of an appealing read if it were actually accessible to basics like me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    This book is both informative and entertaining, especially to those of us in California. The history and personal stories hold your interest through a well written narrative. I listened to the book and I recommend it as the storyteller is the author. The book adresses the growth of "the Valley", Sacramento, San Joaquin, Kern, Kings and others and the growth that was brought about by politicians and large land holders. But the growth of the land use has come with much controversy with increased w This book is both informative and entertaining, especially to those of us in California. The history and personal stories hold your interest through a well written narrative. I listened to the book and I recommend it as the storyteller is the author. The book adresses the growth of "the Valley", Sacramento, San Joaquin, Kern, Kings and others and the growth that was brought about by politicians and large land holders. But the growth of the land use has come with much controversy with increased water use for crops and less for home owners. The book is an important read in this age of increased land use and water consumption. The book covers the changes in crops from wheat, cotton, raisins, almonds, pistachios and grapes. A book well worth the read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    As usual I've waited too long after finishing to write up any thoughts. My remaining impressions are equally typical: edifying but maddeningly lacking in citation, rendering what could have been a valuable history of water in California down to a hodge-podge of of errata and autobiography. An entertaining, educational hodge-podge full of great leads, but on the whole not something I would ever feel comfortable citing directly. I will say that Arax has a nose for errata that are not trivial to loo As usual I've waited too long after finishing to write up any thoughts. My remaining impressions are equally typical: edifying but maddeningly lacking in citation, rendering what could have been a valuable history of water in California down to a hodge-podge of of errata and autobiography. An entertaining, educational hodge-podge full of great leads, but on the whole not something I would ever feel comfortable citing directly. I will say that Arax has a nose for errata that are not trivial to look up on the Internet, and that my limited, library-less ability to vet facts on said Internet have not yielded any egregious falsehoods, though I have found a few minor problems I've described in the notes below. The strongest part of the book was probably what first directed me to it: his chapter on the Resnicks, a couple who have made a fortune out of watering the southern San Joaquin Valley, and who Arax profiles with apparent detail and humanity (and which I first read in the California Sunday Magazine). This is where the book really is primary source material, because Arax is basically telling the story of his own reporting over many years, as well as his own family's story from the San Joaquin. The line between idealistic self-made dreamers and subhuman hubristic capitalists runs through so many Californians, and Arax is at his best when he traces its path through the Resnicks. The writing is also surprisingly good, though there is a rather annoying and repeated tendency to "noun" adjectives, e.g. "each face wears its own weary" (p. 315). Once or twice is enough, thanks. Of course, I was somewhat disappointed that Arax didn't seem to care much for nature in the specific, which, fine, not everyone has to indulge in my obsessions to the degree that I do, but the San Joaquin Valley is a place where an entire distinct ecosystem was practically obliterated by western culture and almost no one who blazes up and down I-5 has any conception of it. To Arax, this pre-Western condition merited a few passing references to Indians, wildflowers, and Tulare Lake. Today's Central Valley is an ecological cyborg, its vasculature totally rerouted into aqueducts and pipes, its skin mechanically flayed and arrayed with nut trees, its innards siphoned out to fuel the vehicles that distribute its products. Neglecting what it was like before that happened is like omitting who RoboCop was before he was Robo-anything. I think I wanted this to be a more scholarly version of Cadillac Desert, but it's kind of more of the same in a different watershed. Maybe I should just be reading David Carle's books. NOTES / SPOT CHECKING SOME CLAIMS p. 26, James Henry Carson, "A frenzy seized my soul. Unbidden, my legs performed some entirely new movements of Polka steps." Arax cites the author and the work as "one of the first published accounts of early California" but it does not appear in the bibliography or endnotes. It is from Carson's Early Recollections of the Mines, published in 1852 (Stockton), p. 4. The quote is mostly correct. The original reads, "I looked on for a moment; a frenzy seized my soul; unbidden my legs performed some entirely new movements of Polka steps–I took several–houses were too small for me to stay in" p. 51 Arax quotes former CA governor Pat Brown as saying, "I loved building things. I wanted to build that goddamned water project. I was absolutely determined I was going to pass this California Water Project. I wanted this to be a monument to me." As with the rest of the quotes in this book, there is no direct citation. A web search reveals a couple sources that cite Reisner's Cadillac Desert, a book that I also found to have some problems with citation, but even if it lacks actual citations it has much more extensive endnotes than The Dreamt Land. Reisner quotes Brown in chapter 10: "'I loved building things,' he blurted in an unguarded moment of candor. 'I wanted to build that goddamned water project. I was absolutely determined I was going to pass this California Water Project. I wanted this to be a monument to me.'" In the chapter endnotes, he says all quotes from Brown come from California Water Issues, 1950-1966, a publication of the Bancroft Library's Oral History Program, which is enough information to find the source, which lists the full quote as Well, I don t remember that but I had no compunction about even using my enemies in order to accomplish the result. You've got to remember that I was absolutely determined that I was going to pass this California Water Project. I wanted this to be a monument to me. So it was good for the state, but I felt that from a political standpoint, I mean from my own political standpoint, you want to accomplish things. Like if you're a lawyer you want to win lawsuits, and I wanted this project. The catchy line "I loved building things" is completely absent from that page, and from the prior page or two. I can't find it anywhere in the doc, which might be due to bad digitization, but even if it's there, it was combined out of context. The cursing seems completely fabricated. Maybe it was in an audio recording if one exists, but Reisner did not say he took the quote from an audio recording, but from this transcript, so he clearly fudged the quote, and I suspect Arax got it from Reisner. p. 66 "The first pomegranate tree to grow in the valley were planted in the 1880s, not for their fruit so much but because they grew like bushes and nothing could kill them, especially not drought, and they were so thick with branches that no better windbreak could be found." So far I can't find a source for this, but maybe Butterfield's A History of Subtropical Fruits and Nuts in California (1963) has the answer. pp. 70-71 "Los Angeles, by comparison, consumes only 587,000 acre-feet of water a year." Aside from the fact that this number naturally varies from year to year, if I average the LA water supply from 2008 to 2018 using the data at https://data.lacity.org/A-Livable-and..., I get ~552,060, which is pretty close. p. 78 Subsidence due to groundwater pumping has altered the terrain over which the California aqueduct flows, causing it to sag in places where it was designed to flow south by gravity, and now must be assisted by pumps. Climate change leads to drought leads to groundwater pumping leads to subsidence leads to fossil fuel consumption for pumping leads to climate change leads to drought leads to groundwater pumping... pp. 81 Arax made an off-hand reference to "shit on a shingle," which is apparently an American military delicacy of chipped beef milk gravy served on toast, also known by the sobriquet "S.O.S." p. 87 So many great claims w/r/t Grover Dean Turnbow * He wrote a textbook about ice cream called "Ice Cream." That checks out. * He created a method for producing powdered milk that preserved the milkfat. Haven't been able to verify that. * Ran Golden State Dairy in Oakland. Can't verify, but here's a cool milk bottle: http://collections.museumca.org/?q=co... * Founded International Dairy Supply, a major supplier of milk products to the US military in Asia, which seems to be backed up by this merger into Foremost Dairies, Inc. * Claims condensed milk supplied by Turnbow (I guess his company?) led to the development of Thai iced tea. This seems like total speculation and I've found nothing to support it * Lived in Piedmont Hills above Oakland. Haven't managed to verify * Owned Triangle T Ranch in Chowchilla, CA. Checks out: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/board_..., http://leonharrel.com/LeonsStories/Gr... * Tried to preserve some of the un-farmed parts of his property as a preserve for San Joaquin flora and fauna. Not sure how you even verify this without knowing where the information comes from This is where the lack of citation really kills you. This is such a great little vignette, but is any of it true? Who knows! p. 102 "But with all its flow, furrow irrigation actually helps replenish the aquifer. The paradox of drip is that for all its precision, it does not save water in the aggregate. Because a drip line can reach anywhere, hundreds of thousands of acres in California–land on hillsides, land with rocks the size of baseballs, land with impenetrable clays and impervious salts–have come under cultivations." Any truth to this? rocky hillsides and salty clay flats are some of my favorite places... p. 167 He uses Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine as a lead-in to describing the floods of 1862, but damn, that publication makes for some fun reading and skimming. I only paged through that one scan but found numerous gems, from a spot-on report of a visit to the Farallons to multiple reports on the effects of poison oak and how to mitigate them to some painfully racist but fascinating portraits of "The World in California." Brilliant stuff. p. 178 He quotes Thomas Starr King: "'The Earth is not yet finished. It was not made for nettles nor for the manzanita and chaparral,' the preacher told his audience of pioneer farmers. 'It was made for grain, for orchards, for the vine, for the comfort and luxuries of thrifty homes.'" Slightly chopped, but close enough, given that the source I found was a transcription of a speech, and thus probably also incorrect in the details. p. 225 Makes another un-cited, un-dated quote from "the leading Japanese newspaper in San Francisco. I was skeptical that there were multiple Japanese newspapers in SF, ever. Turns out there were a bunch in the early 20th century. p. 235 Arax claims peach pits from Fresno were used to create charcoal for gas masks in World War I. Peach puts and other stone fruit cores were, in fact, used for this purpose in WWI According to this 15 Sept 1918 New York Times article. There's also this Atlantic piece. No obvious hits about a Fresno connection, but if they were growing a lot of stone fruit in Fresno that seems reasonable. p. 302 Apparently Resnick sued neighbors because their bees were fertilizing his seedless mandarin crop, causing them to have seeds. Not sure how one corroborates a suit like that, but here's one news story mentioning it that's not by Arax. The fact that there exists bee-proof netting to prevent this boggles the mind. Also on the subject of trespassing bees: https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=PRP19... p. 379 Apparently there were a number of anti-Filipino pogroms in California and elsewhere in the Pacific states in the early 1920s. First I've heard of it. Most of the history of anti-Asian discrimination in California seems to focus on the Chinese in the 19th century and the Japanese during their imprisonment during WWII. p. 436 Kesterson Reservoir, where selenium runoff from Westlands irrigation mutated a bunch of ducks, among other horrors: https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DS198... p. 490 On Will S. Green founding the town of Colusa: "He and his fellow pioneers were then overtaken by a peculiar American impulse to name their place after the culture they were sending to the trash heap. Honor or insult, they christened it Colusa after the tribe of local Indians." This impulse needs a name. p. 503 This really broke my mind. Central Valley ag lobbies the California Fish and Game Commission to loosen catch limits on Striped Bass so the bass will eat fewer smelt and salmon, whose dwindling numbers cause the state to turn off the pumps that will provide water to ag. Fishers resist loosening these limits b/c they don't want the *bass* to be over-fished: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/env...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I don't know which is the greater feat - that Mark Arax wrote a comprehensive book about the manipulation of water in California or that I actually finished this book. Picked by my book club, so not a book I would normally read, it was at first a chore to read but by the end it became a need to find out what conclusions the author would come to after his rumination on this subject. Starting with John Sutter the author begins the history of agriculture in California and covers everything that's h I don't know which is the greater feat - that Mark Arax wrote a comprehensive book about the manipulation of water in California or that I actually finished this book. Picked by my book club, so not a book I would normally read, it was at first a chore to read but by the end it became a need to find out what conclusions the author would come to after his rumination on this subject. Starting with John Sutter the author begins the history of agriculture in California and covers everything that's happened since then and the harnessing of water and depletion of ancient aquifers to create the billion dollar industry it is today. Arax mainly focuses on the Central Valley, the fortunes made and lost, the politics, the corruption and the people both great and small. Through interviews it felt like the author had respect for the people who shaped and are shaping the region but he also makes it clear that their relentless drilling into the aquifer and their expansion into areas that should never have been farmed is not sustainable. Lest you think he is completely against farming, he points out how trying to save the smelt and salmon by diverting water back to the Delta probably won't work, there are just too many forces against these fish making a comeback. And if the farmers didn't use the water the state would find other ways to use the surplus, namely creating more suburbs. Like the author's grandfather, my grandfather was also a fruit tramp in the same place and time so I am glad to have learned of this piece of history but more importantly where our water comes from. Though I'd have to subtract a star for the book being a bit long winded, I'm adding it back for the simple fact that I actually finished the book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tom Brennan

    The history of the American West is a history of water. Arax understands that in his bones. He's chased that story much of his life, and it shows in this very good work. Yes, he inserts himself into it too much. Yes, he can be unbalanced at times, erring on the side of unreasonable environmentalism. But those things said, he writes a very good (his)story here. It helps that he is a very good writer, and it helps even more that he is clearly passionate about his subject. My favorite portions were The history of the American West is a history of water. Arax understands that in his bones. He's chased that story much of his life, and it shows in this very good work. Yes, he inserts himself into it too much. Yes, he can be unbalanced at times, erring on the side of unreasonable environmentalism. But those things said, he writes a very good (his)story here. It helps that he is a very good writer, and it helps even more that he is clearly passionate about his subject. My favorite portions were those in which he detailed the impact of water on various industries such as mining, citrus, grapes, and nuts. His deep dive into the formation of those industries in California and how they have changed over the decades is enlightening. His discussion of the main characters involved in those stories in nothing less than fantastic. He paints portraits of people very, very well. For most people, at first glance, the book seems dry, no pun intended. It isn't, by a long stretch. Well-written, detailed without being heavy, almost always interesting, and only sometimes unbalanced, it's a good contribution to regional American history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Camila

    if you've ever been on the i-5 in california and passed those signs that say "congress created the drought" and wondered what the hell that means, then this book answers that question and many more. like, i didn't know that california was prone to flooding, or that california has one of the most impressive/complicated hydraulics systems in the world, or that farmers regularly go against the law during droughts and draw groundwater that is rapidly depleting, thus causing the ground in those areas if you've ever been on the i-5 in california and passed those signs that say "congress created the drought" and wondered what the hell that means, then this book answers that question and many more. like, i didn't know that california was prone to flooding, or that california has one of the most impressive/complicated hydraulics systems in the world, or that farmers regularly go against the law during droughts and draw groundwater that is rapidly depleting, thus causing the ground in those areas to sink. this book tells the story of water in california, which is just another one of the many histories of california. as someone who's lived here my whole life, it made this big old state seem a lot more familiar and foreign to me at the same time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jill Cordry

    This book is very informative, but could have been New Yorker magazine article length.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Reading the book highlighted to me how very little I know about how water is handled as a resource in California. It's a fascinating book, an opinionated enough that it left me feeling like I should read more about the subject, to get a broader picture of water management (or lack thereof ) in the state.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Myfanwy Johnston

    Astounding

  24. 4 out of 5

    Angela Juline

    Who knew the story of water in California could be so interesting. Seriously - I loved this book. I listened to the author read it, and I wish I had a print copy of the book to really focus on the mind-blowing information he presents. The water issues in California are not as simple as we like to make it. There have been so many deals that water from one place is sent to another place to be taken from another place to replace the water from the first place. California wouldn't be the California Who knew the story of water in California could be so interesting. Seriously - I loved this book. I listened to the author read it, and I wish I had a print copy of the book to really focus on the mind-blowing information he presents. The water issues in California are not as simple as we like to make it. There have been so many deals that water from one place is sent to another place to be taken from another place to replace the water from the first place. California wouldn't be the California we know without the many, many, and often underhanded, deals that were made my powerful people. But the fact is people are going to have to come together to find a solution - the tapping of the groundwater by wells that are dug deeper and deeper (some as deep as 2500 feet) is not sustainable.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. So many fascinating stories and facts about water, agriculture, and California. This one took me awhile to finish (it's over 500 pages). I enjoyed it. Here are my favorite clips: 1/3 of CA water comes from the Sacramento and its offshoots. The fields tell you in a glance what the world is eating and drinking at this moment. Consumers change their tastes and the farmer jumps to change what he is growing. It's gotten to be a reflex. A farmer of stone fruit in the tradition of his grandfather for 50 So many fascinating stories and facts about water, agriculture, and California. This one took me awhile to finish (it's over 500 pages). I enjoyed it. Here are my favorite clips: 1/3 of CA water comes from the Sacramento and its offshoots. The fields tell you in a glance what the world is eating and drinking at this moment. Consumers change their tastes and the farmer jumps to change what he is growing. It's gotten to be a reflex. A farmer of stone fruit in the tradition of his grandfather for 50 seasons straight suddenly becomes a farmer of nuts without shedding a tear. No winter chill, no summer jam. The pistachio tree, like its fellow ancient the pomegranate, is a die-hard. Let it live, and it can live to more than 200 years old. Whereas the almond tree is fussy and throws off all sorts of rank growth when deprived of water, the pistachio gets by fine with less water, and among the abuses it can take are long stretches of absolute thirst. We're extracting 8 million acre-feet of water a year out of the earth in California, more than twice the amount stored behind the Shasta Dam. One acre-foot, 326,000 gallons, is enough to sustain two to three suburban families for a year. In Madera alone, the land planted to almonds and pistachios has tripled since the mid-1990s - to 170,000 acres. "It's just nuts, nuts, nuts," Annie says, laughing at her double meaning. It's true that nowhere else on the globe do nuts grow with the fecundity and flavor they achieve here. Each acre of almonds produces 3,000 pounds of crop. Each pound sells for more than 3 dollars. It takes but 100 acres to make a million-dollar harvest every year. So farmers have pulled out of cotton and stone fruit and grapes to plant almonds. Once the land compacts, it never finds tis old elevation, no matter how many floods might come to fill the aquifer back up. The earth is a human face, I imagine him telling me, and the farmer has sucked out all the collagen. Farmers in the Westlands Water District are pumping 660,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year to grow their crops in drought. Los Angeles, by comparison, consumes only 587,000 acre-feet of water a year. When the rivers are flush, cities and farms in CA draw 1/3 of their water from the ground. In drought, when the rivers run low, the farmers here on the west side depend almost wholly on water lifted from deep beneath the earth. There's really no way to dig a well on the west side, pump water through clay and not cause subsidence. The thinner the clay later, the faster the earth sinks. The thicker the clay layer, the more the earth sinks over time. For every inch an aquifer collapses, its capacity to store water is forever reduced by that inch. The scarcity of water is as much a consequence of shifts in agricultural practices as it is of drought. Farmers have switched their ground from seasonal crops to permanent ones. In doing so, they've lost the nimbleness to respond to dry times. A farmer who's converted to permanent crops such as almonds and pistachios operates in a perpetual bind. When drought comes, he's left with only one choice: either dry out his trees or dig a deeper well. The intensification of valley agriculture has created a situation where even a normal year of snowmelt isn't enough to stop the pumping (from aquifers). Subsidence has so altered the design of the aqueduct that the public is spending tens of millions of dollars a year in extra energy costs. No single system in CA consumes as much electricity as the aqueduct. There's the water the cows drink, and the water to wash out the shit from the stalls, and the water that water-guzzling crops lie alfalfa require almost year-round. Some of the dairy's effluent gets flushed into lagoons, and the lagoons percolate into the ground and recharge the aquifer. But this is water tainted with nitrates and unfit for human consumption. Compared to drip, old-style furrow irrigation - flooding wide rows and letting the water soak into the ground - is made to look like a thief on par with the cattle rustler. But with all its flow, furrow irrigation actually helps replenish the aquifer. The paradox of drop is that for all is precision, it does not save water in the aggregate. Because a drop line can reach anywhere, hundreds of thousands of acres in CA - land on hillsides, land with rocks the size of baseballs, land with impenetrable clays and impervious salts - have come under cultivation. In a big wet year, Kern Country is able to call on 3.1 million acre-feet from its 3 sources. Yet the water needed each year by the farms and cities of Kern County amounts to some 3.5 million acre-feet. Water isn't the equalizer that the state and federal projects promised. Water is the means by which the valley has become one of the most unequal places on earth. They grew so many carrots that they invented a baby carrot to get rid of their excess crop. When the state's new groundwater sustainability regulation go into full effect in the next few decades, he confided, at least 300,000 acres of local farmland will have to go out of production. That's more than 1/3 of all farmland in Kern. Stewart Resnick is the single biggest grower of almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, and citrus in the world. He owns 180,000 acres in CA. That's 281 square miles, almost the size of the five boroughs that make up NYC. He is irrigating 121,000 of these acres. He uses more water than any other person in the West. His 15 million trees in the San Joaquin Valley consume more than 400,000 acre-feet of water a year. The city of LA, by comparison, 4 million humans, consumed 587,000 acre-feet. In the Wonderful fields, at least 80% of the workers carry no documents or documents that are not real. All told, 36 men operating 6 machines will harvest the orchard in 6 days. Each tree produces 38 pounds of nuts. Each pound sells wholesale for 4.25. The math works out to 162 a tree. The pistachio trees in Wonderful number 6 million plus. That's a billion dollar crop. The Iranians don't over-irrigate their trees for production but under-irrigate them for taste. They rely mostly on rain, which concentrates the flavorful oils. To grow an almond in Lost Hills, the farmer has to import water, men, and bees. The water crosses the delta border in the north. The worker crosses the desert border in the south. The bee crosses the Rocky Mountain border in the east. Two million colonies - nearly 60 billion bees - are packed into the backs of semitrucks in FL, MN, and ND each winter and hauled to CA to pollinate the valley's almond bloom. The beekeeper refers to it as "the world's biggest brothel for bees." The insects pick up all kinds of nasty things in their flights from field to field. But by marketing all three as one brand, Resnick and Evans covered multiple seasons. They made consumers believe, through tens of millions of dollars in advertising, that a spring Cutie was the same fruit as a winter Cutie. If the November Cutie was drier, the shopper assumed it was happenstance. If the March Cutie was sweeter and juicier, the shopper figured it was the way the fruit was supposed to be. Who knew that one was a Clemenule and the other was a Murcott? If he works through lunch, nine hours straight, he will make more than minimum wage. He will make 260 trays, or $105 (harvesting raisin grapes). Most others only get 200 trays, $75 for a days work. Solutions: Stop building more dams upslope. Fund more water banks downslope in aquifers that can store 1 million acre-feet of water and more. Restrict groundwater pumping to levels that are truly safe. Retire 2 million acres of irrigated farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. Draw a limit line around sprawling cities and create an agricultural preserve. Tax municipal water users $1 a month and assess a small fee on farm chemicals to fund the building and maintenance of water treatment plants. Continue statewide conversation measures that encourage residents to cut their water use. We'd be more honest to say that we grow the nuts and fruits and vegetables that can't be grown elsewhere, or at least not with the quality and fecundity that we grow them here. Let the rest of America raise corn and soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, and cotton. Let the Holsteins go to states where the water and soil aren't so valuable. We need to keep on growing our specialty crops.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Poulsen

    “You can’t understand California without understanding water.” I grew up in central California, but this book taught me so much that I never knew about my home state. Some things I had heard inklings of, but didn’t understand. For many others, I was completely unaware. California truly is the “dreamt land,” more than I had ever realized— meaning that the way it currently exists was dreamt up and created, contrary to its true nature. Mark Arax writes beautifully and passionately as a native son o “You can’t understand California without understanding water.” I grew up in central California, but this book taught me so much that I never knew about my home state. Some things I had heard inklings of, but didn’t understand. For many others, I was completely unaware. California truly is the “dreamt land,” more than I had ever realized— meaning that the way it currently exists was dreamt up and created, contrary to its true nature. Mark Arax writes beautifully and passionately as a native son of Fresno, making a 500 page book about water actually a book about agriculture, politics, family, immigration, industry, man's quest to dominate the land, and a personal journey to understand the confusing and contradictory state that is California. If you are from the Central Valley, this is probably the most important book ever written about the region. If you're from LA or the Bay Area, all of your water comes from elsewhere, and this is likely the best book that delves into the nuances of California's most complicated and important resource.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda Gaines

    This book is way, way, way too long. It was clearly well researched, but the author either can't keep on topic or couldn't decide what the topic is. The books for the most part is about the constant drought and flood cycles in California and the users of water. For the most part, it is about farmers and just a little about city users. The history of farming and water use, where all the water is coming, and the effects of using more water than is really available is interesting. The politics of i This book is way, way, way too long. It was clearly well researched, but the author either can't keep on topic or couldn't decide what the topic is. The books for the most part is about the constant drought and flood cycles in California and the users of water. For the most part, it is about farmers and just a little about city users. The history of farming and water use, where all the water is coming, and the effects of using more water than is really available is interesting. The politics of it is also interesting and for the most part infuriating. However, the author kept talking in detail about some of the players in the water use. This would have been good, but so many people are introduced in such level of detail including all the various generations of water users, and they are introduced in such quick succession that I could not longer keep any of them straight. Also, the author kept going into memoir area that had nothing to do with the thesis of the book. This would have been a much better book with an editor who would have cut 10-20% of the text out.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mom

    both enlightening and disappointing many parts of the the book are straight from his West of the West book. both books repeat phrases that come across as affectations. Lots of research is covered and is to be applauded.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Keith W

    This is one of the best books I have ever read — certainly in the top ten and probably in the top five. The story is compelling and the writing downright magical. Mark Arax is a master of the English language who can make words and sentences dance on the page. Drawing on a wealth of sources, including between "275 and 300" personal interviews, 130 hours of oral history and his own top-notch investigative reporting, Arax tells the story of water usage and water manipulation in California and espe This is one of the best books I have ever read — certainly in the top ten and probably in the top five. The story is compelling and the writing downright magical. Mark Arax is a master of the English language who can make words and sentences dance on the page. Drawing on a wealth of sources, including between "275 and 300" personal interviews, 130 hours of oral history and his own top-notch investigative reporting, Arax tells the story of water usage and water manipulation in California and especially in the great Central Valley where agriculture is both king and culprit. He narrates much of the history of the Golden State, going back to John Sutter and the discovery of gold by James Marshall. During and after the Gold Rush, water was brought to bear to open up hillsides and mountainsides to reveal the nuggets inside, leaving the polluted water to run off into streams and rivers that carried the tailings to farm land below. As Arax explains, it took an historic injunction from the state’s judicial system to finally stop the mining interests from polluting the rivers with their foul runoff. However, most of the book is about agriculture’s use — and massive misuse — of water to irrigate farms and turn land that should have never been tilled into massive vineyards, orchards and cotton farms. Using water to grow tomatoes and corn and onions is one thing. Using it to sustain vast orchards of almonds and pistachios — luxury food — is another thing altogether. The problem, as Arax points out, is that almond and pistachio trees drink vast quantities of water and, unlike cotton and tomatoes, for example, cannot be left untended during years of drought. Deny water to an almond tree and it dies and you have to dig it up and start over. For vegetables and other crops, you just let the land lie fallow until the rain returns and the drought ends, when you replant your crops. The problem is that people are greedy — boy, are they greedy — and the return on almonds far exceeds what the agri-barons can get from traditional food crops and cotton. So vast almond and pistachio orchards now sprawl across the Central Valley and California’s acute water problem just gets worse. Another problem documented in the book is the inadequacy of river diversions (“stealing a river,” Arax calls it) and governmental irrigation projects to satisfy all the demands of the agricultural empires, which have responded by drilling thousands of ever-deeper water wells that are depleting the aquifer in various locations throughout the Valley, causing irreversible subsidence of the land. California finally enacted legislation to regulate groundwater usage but the law has a 20-year phase-in period and who knows how much additional damage will be done during that time. Arax also points out that the agri-barons -- many of whom are profiled in the book --have always been extremely adept at stretching and circumventing laws and compacts governing water usage and you can tell he’s worried it will happen again with the state’s groundwater law. Don’t any of these people think of the world beyond the end of their nose? Mark Arax grew up in Fresno and knows the Central Valley like the back of his hand. I love the way he weaves his family’s history and his Armenian heritage into the larger story of the Valley and its life as an agricultural bread basket. In terms of his skills as an investigative reporter, Arax reminds me of Robert Caro in his ability to wheedle the truth out of the culprits and assemble bits and pieces of information from a variety of sources to reveal startling scandals and misdeeds. The Dreamt Land is depressing at times and sometimes downright hard to read as you wonder how much more damage will be done to the natural environment before the madness is restrained. However, this is a story that had to be told and I cannot imagine that anyone could have told it better and with more clarity and passion and understanding than Mark Arax.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Dreamt Land tells the complex history of agriculture and water in the San Joaquin Valley which story reaches a little into the Sacramento Valley as well. From a reader's perspective with no prior knowledge of that history, I think they will struggle. Too often Arax wanders through storylines that are confusing. Having personally had a considerable amount of experiences with many of the characters and events portrayed in Dreamt Land, it was easier and of interest to me to see how Arax portrays th Dreamt Land tells the complex history of agriculture and water in the San Joaquin Valley which story reaches a little into the Sacramento Valley as well. From a reader's perspective with no prior knowledge of that history, I think they will struggle. Too often Arax wanders through storylines that are confusing. Having personally had a considerable amount of experiences with many of the characters and events portrayed in Dreamt Land, it was easier and of interest to me to see how Arax portrays the topic. It is clear (at least to me, I hope) that he is writing the story from the standpoint of a journalist and a bit of a muckraker (maybe a lot of muckraking). The fact that his father was murdered in a Fresno bar when Mark Arax was 15 years old doesn't help his attitude as that crime went on unsolved for decades. Does he carry a grudge? It seems to be absolutely yes. But Dreamt Land was not written to tell the story about his father. Arax has written about that in other publications. I am not sure if Arax said one positive thing in the 500+ pages of Dreamt Land about farming or how water was been used in all kinds of ways. My own connection with the subject matter comes from having lived in Fresno for 6 years in charge of the office of Price Waterhouse there. I opened the office in 1981 and closed the office in 1986. I transferred to the Sacramento office in 1986 but did not move my family until 1987 when our daughter finished high school. I often said if you are going to be in business in Fresno, that you will be in agribusiness. I was the lead agribusiness industry specialist for Price Waterhouse. In addition to the obvious many client connections, I also had personal connections with lots of friends who were directly engaged in agribusiness. Finally, I had a direct investment in an almond and pistachio orchard. So I was all in. The reason for the failure of the office is complex and a story for another day. In the closing pages of the book, Arax sets forth his list of ideas that might bring a little sanity to the delirium. He relates to the readers comments of the "Oracle" who thinks that the Arax ideas go a little too far (no surprise there) and that he doesn't trust state bureaucrats or local politicians to solve the problems. The Oracle says "I believe in capitalism. I believe in private property rights. But when it comes to water, a necessity of life, the system has to be tweaked. If we're going to keep growing food in this valley, we can't allow water to be sold to the highest bidder." While there have been efforts to bring water supplies under the public domain, water users (Big Ag) have always been successful in getting clauses written into legislation at both the Federal and state levels to allow them to circumvent real controls. Big Ag's lobby is very powerful. So for pure reading enjoyment, Dreamt Land is 3 stars. For a breakthrough non-fiction text of the subject matter, it is not a 5 because I perceive that is too much muckraking in the book. So I give Dreamt Land 4 stars.

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