The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California

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 Californi...

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Title:The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California
Author:Mark Arax
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The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California Reviews

  • Julianne Burk

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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