The Dreamt Land: Book summary and reviews of The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax

The Dreamt Land

Chasing Water and Dust Across California

by Mark Arax

The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax X
The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax
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Book Summary

A vivid, searching journey into California's capture of water and soil—an epic story of a people's defiance of nature and the wonders, and ruin, it has wrought.

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.

This 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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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Drawing on historical sources and nearly 300 interviews, Arax reveals the consequences to land and wildlife of generations of landowners who have defiantly dug, dammed, and diverted California's waters. A stunning history of power, arrogance, and greed." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Arax brings a reporter's precision of language, a researcher's depth of perception, and a born storyteller's voice to this empathetic but unsentimental look at the history, present, and uncertain future of a once-arid region restructured into one of the country's most productive." - Publishers Weekly

"The Dreamt Land is the book Mark Arax was born to write. Nuanced, deeply researched, and profoundly personal, it offers, through its history of agriculture in California, a deep dive into the soul of the state." - David L. Ulin, author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles

"This is a stunning book. Biblical drama played against the harsh sun and earth of California's Central Valley. Exodus, diaspora, parting the waters, sowing and reaping, Godlike dominion: it's all in here." - William Francis Deverell, Director of Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

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Author Information

Mark Arax

Mark Arax is an author and journalist whose writings on California and the West have received numerous awards for literary nonfiction. A former staffer at the Los Angeles Times, his work has appeared in The New York Times and the California Sunday Magazine. His books include a memoir of his father's murder, a collection of essays about the West, and the best-selling The King of California, which won a California Book Award, the William Saroyan Prize from Stanford University, and was named a top book of 2004 by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in Fresno, California.

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