David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
California in Color. An Essay on the Paradox of Plenty. By T. H. Watkins. (New York, N.Y., Hastings House Publishers, 1970). Illustrations. Descriptive Texts. 95 pages. $4.95.
Reviewed by Dr. Douglas H. Strong, Professor of History at San Diego State College and author of The Conservationists, Trees — or Timber? The Story of Sequoia and Kings National Parks, and several articles on conservation in California.
T. H. Watkins’ California in Color consists of a short, 23-page essay entitled “The Paradox of Plenty,” written in a popular style for the general reader, and 33 color photographs, each with an accompanying explanatory paragraph. It gives a brief historical sketch of the growth of California, with special emphasis on the way in which the state became a mecca for immigrants with expectations of wealth.
The author describes California as a paradox — wealth and abundance on the one hand, poverty and despair on the other. By way of illustration he goes back to the 1850’s when the great wealth that a few Californians acquired during the gold rush was in sharp contrast to the disillusionment and impoverishment of thousands who were less fortunate. Watkins believes that the myth of California as a land of milk and honey persists despite its areas of great poverty, and that it still encourages people to seek their fortunes here. It would have been interesting that had he been in a position to comment on the recent finding that more people now leave the state each year than enter it; but these statistics were not published until after the completion of his essay.
Watkins does not add any information or interpretations to such earlier studies as Raymond F. Dasmann’s The Destruction of California (1965), Richard G. Lillard’s Eden in Jeopardy (1966), and William Bronson’s How to Kill a Golden State (1968); nor does he suggest solutions to California’s environmental problems such as have been offered in issues of Cry California, The California Tomorrow Plan, and the Nader task force’s Power and Land in California. But he has given us a brief, readable introduction to California’s dynamic history, a view of its uncertain future, and a collection of interesting photographs selected to illustrate the variety in the state’s landscape, both past and present. It is obvious that the author appreciates California’s diversity, physical as well as social and economic.
Watkins’ book will serve a useful purpose if it alerts more Californians to the “paradox of excess” in a land of beauty and excitement that is so threatened by overcrowding, blight, and poverty.