Mark Arax is a contributing writer at Los Angeles magazine and a former senior writer at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of West of the West. Rick Wartzman is the Director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University in California, a fellow of the New America Foundation, and the author of Obscene in the Extreme. He was formerly the business editor for the Los Angeles Times and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
The King Of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of A Secret American Empireby Mark Arax, Rick Wartzman
J.G. Boswell was the biggest farmer in America. He built a secret empire while thumbing his nose at nature, politicians, labor unions and every journalist who ever tried to lift the veil on the ultimate "factory in the fields." The King of California is the previously untold account of how a Georgia slave-owning family migrated to California in the early 1920s,drained one of America 's biggest lakes in an act of incredible hubris and carved out the richest cotton empire in the world. Indeed, the sophistication of Boswell 's agricultural operation -from lab to field to gin - is unrivaled anywhere.
Much more than a business story, this is a sweeping social history that details the saga of cotton growers who were chased from the South by the boll weevil and brought their black farmhands to California. It is a gripping read with cameos by a cast of famous characters, from Cecil B. DeMille to Cesar Chavez.
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Although I have spent my life in the San Joaquin Valley, not far from Corcoran, I discovered some interesting new information in this book. However, errors such as putting Delano in Tulare County when it is in Kern County, and a few other real obvious klunkers, made me want to check things twice. Sometimes the authors let their own agenda get in the way of the facts, and they use a bit of hyperbole in description, but the facts of the draining of Tulare Lake, the damming of the four major rivers, and the pre-eminence of WATER as the motivating force in our desert land are very well explained. Not least, this book is a good and entertaining read.
the King of California is the non fiction equivalent of 'The Grapes of Wrath'. It's a richly reported, wonderfully written story of California's Central Valley. Very Highly recommended.