Endangered Dreams

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Kevin Starr, is State Librarian of California and a leading authority on California history. ENDANGERED DREAMS is the fourth in his multivolume chronological study entitled AMERICANS AND THE CALIFORNIA DREAM. The previous volumes were AMERICANS AND THE CALIFORNIA DREAM, 1850-1915 (1973), INVENTING THE DREAM: CALIFORNIA THROUGH THE PROGRESSIVE ERA (1985), and MATERIAL DREAMS: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THROUGH THE 1920’S (1990).

ENDANGERED DREAMS begins with the labor wars of the nineteenth century, when the Communist Party was active in agricultural, transportation, and industrial labor strife. It concludes with a description of the San Francisco World’s Fair and America’s entry into World War II ending the Depression.

Starr presents his history as an ongoing conflict between “the oligarchy” and the masses of Californians who all had different dreams. Retirees dreamed of peace and security in an idyllic climate. The “Okies” dreamed of owning a piece of rich farmland and putting down roots. Workers dreamed of dignity, decent wages, and humane working conditions. The lower-middle-class population dreamed of enrichment and upward social mobility in a land of opportunities. Politicians of leftist and rightist sympathies dreamed of becoming senators, governors, and presidents.

The oligarchy had grandiose dreams and the power to fulfill them in such modern wonders as Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate and Oakland-Bay bridges, the All-American Canal, the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, Shasta Dam, Rainbow Bridge, and the network of freeways that eventually transformed California into a unique civilization dependent upon cars and trucks.

Californians’ dreams brought classes into conflict. The 1930’s California microcosm mirrored the troubled globe on the brink of war. California had its little Hitlers and Mussolinis as well as its little Lenins and Stalins.

Starr’s book contains twenty-eight pages of notes and annotated bibliography. He seems to have read everything on the subject, including massive government reports. The fact-heavy text demands patience and close attention. Nevertheless, Starr, who is also a contributing editor with the LOS ANGELES TIMES and a university professor, enlivens his narrative with anecdotes about such personalities as Tom Mooney, Upton Sinclair, Harry Bridges, Herbert Hoover, John Steinbeck, and many others.

Sources for Further Study

Bookwatch. XVII, February, 1996, p. 6.

Choice. XXXIII, May, 1996, p. 1546.

Civilization. III, January, 1996, p. 76.

Kirkus Reviews. LXIII, October 1, 1995, p. 1413.

Library Journal. CXX, October 15, 1995, p. 74.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 21, 1996, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, February 18, 1996, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, November 20, 1995, p. 63.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, February 11, 1996, p. 6.