Mark Arax on "The Dreamt Land"
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From the Publisher
The Dreamt Land 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.
Author and Journalist
Mark Arax has been called a “21st Century John Steinbeck” for his books that pry open the soul of California. A writer of essays, history, biography and journalism, he is a two-time winner of the California Book Award and a recipient of Stanford University's William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. His books delve deeply into the land and its people and a “culture of extraction” that defines the West. No writer has devoted more pages to the story of California agriculture— small farmers and big farmers, the migrants whose toil brings home the crops—than Arax. He confronts with lyrical passion a peoples’ defiance of nature that has invented and reinvented California and now imperils its future. A son of the San Joaquin Valley with family roots in farming, he earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and began his journalism career at the Baltimore Evening Sun before returning home to write for the Los Angeles Times. He quickly distinguished himself as one of those rare journalists who combines the tenacity of an investigative reporter and the pen of a poet. His work in the late 1990s and early 2000s revealed state-sanctioned murder in California prisons and a coverup at the highest levels of government. His relentless pursuit of the truth—hailed by The Nation magazine as “one of the great journalistic achievements of the decade”—forced California to stop its practice of mixing rival inmates in tiny exercise yards and shooting them dead when they fought. His most recent work, "The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California," also a national bestseller, has been hailed by critics as one of the most important books ever written about the West.
William C. Landreth Visiting Fellow, Water in the West
Felicia Marcus is the William C. Landreth Visiting Fellow at Stanford’s Water in the West Program. Prior to joining Stanford, she held a range of positions in government, the non-profit, and private sectors dealing with a range of environmental issues including water supply, water management, water quality, and water rights. Most recently, Felicia served as Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board during a time of tremendous drought and change. She is also currently a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and a Founding Member of the Water Policy Group, an international network of current and former national and international high level water policy officials.