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King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire
     

King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire

4.0 1
by Mark Arax
 

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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

Overview


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.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
Many stories, all rolled into one epic... Written in a lively style that matches the bigger-than-life qualities of its subject.
Publishers Weekly
I call it the nonfiction Grapes of Wrath.
Economist
Intelligently fair-minded.
Fresno Bee
There is no escaping the reach of this bittersweet story.
Los Angeles Times
Passionate, fair-minded, thought-provoking and groundbreaking...Thoroughly moving, deeply rendered and utterly trustworthy.
Portland Oregonian
The King of California has that feel of authenticity that only comes with shoe leather. It deserves notice.
Raleigh News and Observer
...an alluring and fascinating account... a rollicking tale...
The New Yorker
This meticulous narrative of the rise of the cotton magnate James G. Boswell begins in the nineteen-twenties, when his family was driven from Georgia by boll-weevil infestations and brought its plantation ways to California’s San Joaquin Valley. Not to be defeated by nature again, the Boswells leveed and dammed Tulare Lake, the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, to the point of extinction. In its six-hundred-square-mile basin they grew cotton, while in Los Angeles office towers they built one of the country’s largest agricultural operations, swallowing small farms and multimillion-dollar subsidies with equal vigor. Arax and Wartzman strive for evenhandedness but acknowledge the costs of Big Ag—such as evaporation ponds with selenium levels so high that ducks are born with corkscrewed beaks and no eyes, and the recurrent “hundred-year floods,” stubborn attempts by the old lake to reassert itself.
The tale of so many agencies, so many agri-barons and so many economic forces tangling in so baroque a fashion is a forbidding bit of reporting, to put things mildly, and it's to Arax and Wartzman's considerable credit that they are able to chronicle so much of it so clearly and thoroughly … one is grateful all the same to have such a crucial chapter in California history fleshed out in such impressive detail. —Chris Lehmann
The Washington Post
The tale of so many agencies, so many agri-barons and so many economic forces tangling in so baroque a fashion is a forbidding bit of reporting, to put things mildly, and it's to Arax and Wartzman's considerable credit that they are able to chronicle so much of it so clearly and thoroughly … one is grateful all the same to have such a crucial chapter in California history fleshed out in such impressive detail. —Chris Lehmann
San Francisco Chronicle
This story is byzantine in its complexity and Florentine in its corruption...the book operates like a well-planned interview.
San Diego Union-Tribune
With obstinate bravura, Arax and Wartzman rip down curtains that have veiled this valley...For scope and readability, these guys shine."
Library Journal
Jim Boswell is the biggest farmer in California and probably in the United States. For most of the last century, his family succeeded in keeping its business affairs private, but Los Angeles Times journalists Arax and Wartzman have finally persuaded Boswell to talk about his operations. In addition to interviews, they have used court filings, archival documents and records, and published sources to tell the story of how a few cotton planters chased from the South by the boll weevil settled around Tulare Lake in Kings County, CA, and turned it into one of the foremost cotton-producing areas in the world. Here also is the story of those who worked those fields-Okies, African Americans, and Mexicans-and the cotton workers' strike of 1933. To round out the story, Arax and Wartzman recount the environmental battles over dams, canals, and pollutants that began with the New Deal and continue to this day. Boswell has been reluctant to talk to anyone, and the authors should be commended for getting him on the record. The result is a fair and balanced treatment, to the point of being nonjudgmental about environmental issues. As much social and environmental history as business history, this accessibly written book is recommended for all California libraries and for large collections on American agricultural and social history.-Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586482817
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
02/14/2005
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
343,319
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
16 - 18 Years

Meet the Author


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.

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King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a marvelous tale well told - a story of family feuds, water policy gone mad, Okies drifting and towns booming and busting. It drags a bit toward the end, and the story of how the valley towns went bust is not fully explored. The practice of having the opening chapters of each Part of the book be descriptive of the cotton growing is more 'Moby Dick' than 'Grapes of Wrath' but wonderfully effective. Nonetheless, a great story.