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Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles
     

Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles

by Les Standiford
 

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The author of Last Train to Paradise tells the story of the largest public water project ever created—William Mulholland’s Los Angeles aqueduct—a story of Gilded Age ambition, hubris, greed, and one determined man who's vision shaped the future and continues to impact us today.

In 1907, Irish immigrant William Mulholland conceived and

Overview

The author of Last Train to Paradise tells the story of the largest public water project ever created—William Mulholland’s Los Angeles aqueduct—a story of Gilded Age ambition, hubris, greed, and one determined man who's vision shaped the future and continues to impact us today.

In 1907, Irish immigrant William Mulholland conceived and built one of the greatest civil engineering feats in history: the aqueduct that carried water 223 miles from the Sierra Nevada mountains to Los Angeles—allowing this small, resource-challenged desert city to grow into a modern global metropolis. Drawing on new research, Les Standiford vividly captures the larger-then-life engineer and the breathtaking scope of his six-year, $23 million project that would transform a region, a state, and a nation at the dawn of its greatest century.

With energy and colorful detail, Water to the Angels brings to life the personalities, politics, and power—including bribery, deception, force, and bicoastal financial warfare—behind this dramatic event. At a time when the importance of water is being recognized as never before—considered by many experts to be the essential resource of the twenty-first century—Water to the Angels brings into focus the vigor of a fabled era, the might of a larger than life individual, and the scale of a priceless construction project, and sheds critical light on a past that offers insights for our future.

Water to the Angels includes 8 pages of photographs.

Editorial Reviews

Erik Larson
“In this incredibly timely book, Les Standiford chronicles William Mulholland’s heroic drive to bring water to Los Angeles and thus to create the city we know today. It’s a powerful-and beautifully told-story of hubris, ingenuity, and, ultimately, deepest tragedy.”
Publishers Weekly
01/26/2015
Standiford (Last Train to Paradise) takes on and defends (despite claims that the book is merely factual) the controversial and steadfast William Mulholland, who developed and oversaw the seemingly impossible construction of an aqueduct from Owens Valley to Los Angeles in the early 20th century. The development of a Los Angeles water system that enabled and responded to the city’s quick growth is deeply entwined with the politics of the era and allegations of corruption, though this book does not do the topic justice. Standiford admits this is “not a work of traditional scholarship,” but something he chose to do for the sake of the general reader. Yet the book is confusingly organized, with a tangential, but attention-grabbing, first chapter (which features a dam that broke, flooding a valley and killing hundreds at the end of Mulholland’s career); unusual juxtaposition of anecdotes; and an overall conflict in its premise—is it a biography of Mulholland or the story of the aqueduct? Pacing is also unfortunate, as the book lags in its unnecessarily long description of the building of the aqueduct and doesn’t pick up again until the end. What could have been an intensely interesting affair unfortunately lacks detail richness and fails to cohere. (Mar.)
Library Journal
02/15/2015
Standiford (creative writing, Florida International Univ.; Last Train to Paradise) offers a biography of William Mulholland (1855–1935), focusing on his role in the development of Los Angeles. While the author provides factual details regarding the California Water Wars and the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, which often cast Mulholland in a poor light, his desire to avoid a condemnation of his subject means that his language ultimately leans a bit too much toward the apologetic. For example, in the first 30 pages alone, Mulholland is referred to as "legendary" multiple times and the author's note describes an incident when the subject's granddaughter was harassed, indicating that the reader should feel sympathetic toward the granddaughter…and her grandfather by extension. In describing the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars in damages, Standiford describes how Mulholland willingly took blame for the incident, which the reader should consider refreshing because modern-day politicians wouldn't have done the same. The author tries to humanize Mulholland, a man who made great things happen—for both good and ill, depending on one's point of view. VERDICT This work might appeal to those interested in the American West, California, water rights, and biography. However, readers wanting a more balanced perspective should consider Mark Reisner's Cadillac Desert. [See Prepub Alert, 9/14/14.]—Crystal Goldman, Univ. of California, San Diego Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
2015-01-08
Dutiful story of a man who, not having finished high school, "let alone set foot in an engineering class," designed a metropolitan water system that is still in use today.Irish immigrant William Mulholland's (1855-1935) construction of a water grid centered on the Los Angeles River, which captivated him when he arrived in 1877, inarguably made the LA of today possible, for better or worse; more than 10 million citizens depend on it to some degree or another. Yet Mulholland was nearly condemned to oblivion after a dam collapsed in 1928 in the mountains above the city, an event considered by some to be the worst engineering failure in American history. Standiford (Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War, 2012, etc.) examines the events of Mulholland's life up to that disaster, praising him for squarely accepting responsibility: "Devastated by the event that refashioned him from civic hero to villain in an eye-blink, Mulholland would at one point confide to a reporter, ‘I envy those who were killed.' " There are better books on the politics and history of water in Southern California, and sometimes it seems that Standiford is generating words just to fill space as he plumbs his topic—e.g., turning Edward Abbey's stirring aperçu on the visual splendor of the West into the lame observation, "in the elemental landscape of Jawbone Canyon, no such problem presents itself." The portrait that emerges is of a determined public servant who was in the right place at the right time, demonized by later generations for his role in removing water from other parts of California in order to shape a metropolis. The added value of Standiford's book largely comes in its closing pages, in which he examines the now-canonical script for Chinatown and separates history from fiction. Generally sympathetic to its subject and well-written but to be consulted only after William Kahrl's Water and Power (1982) and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert (1986).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062251459
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/23/2016
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
350,591
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Les Standiford is the bestselling author of twenty books and novels, including the John Deal mystery series, and the works of narrative history The Man Who Invented Christmas (a New York Times Editors’ Choice) and Last Train to Paradise. He is the director of the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami, where he lives with his wife, Kimberly, a psychotherapist and artist. Visit his website at www.les-standiford.com.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Miami, Florida
Date of Birth:
October 31, 1945
Place of Birth:
Cambridge, Ohio
Education:
B.A., Muskingum College; M.A. and Ph.D., University of Utah

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