Synopses & Reviews
In this wholly original study, David Wyatt uses the metaphor of fire to tell the story of California. Wyatt focuses this catastrophic history of his native state on five events of social combustion and tangible fire that swept through California, altering its physical and political landscape and the way both were represented in art and literature.
Wyatt begins with the accidental importation and spread of the wild oat in the 1770s, a process that had its human parallel in the Spanish invaders. He then explores the impact of four other significant events: the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, the post-World War II defense-industry boom, and the fire of race that erupted in Watts in 1965. This fifth fire, which flared throughout the Chinese and Mexican immigration experiences and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, has been at the core of California's history, Wyatt argues.
From the journals of a Gold Camp mineress to Amy Tan's novels, from Ansel Adams's photography to Roman Polanski's films, Wyatt brings into dialogue a wide range of powerful, moving voices.
"A marvelous short history of our most populous state...[Wyatt] elegantly employs fire as a metaphor for the five milestone events and phenomena in his survey of California...The later part of Wyatt's account, with all its popular figures, evokes the freshness of an E.L. Doctorow novel. Which means he has created a history you will want to read."--Newsday
"David Wyatt elegantly entwines the public and personal in this elegiac salute to California, our strangest, saddest, most enchanting state."--Carolyn See, author of Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America
"It's a fascinating beginning for the reader taken by this idea of history swept along by flames."--Christian Science Monitor
"Wyatt has looked beyond the plastic Hollywood stereotypes to uncover a rich and wildly diverse history. Five Fires is an urgent retelling of the mythology of the Golden State."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"A big-picture view of California's history, told with verve and considerable learning...Wyatt has much to relate, and he does so exceptionally well, yielding a happy (and rare) instance when the reader emerges wishing that a longish book would go on just a bit longer."--Kirkus Reviews
Using his background in cultural history and literature, David Wyatt focuses this history of California on five events that swept through the state, altering its physical and political landscape. "Five Fires" provides a unique framework for understanding the recent developments in California and will prove an important contribution to the history of American culture. Photos.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 263-279) and index.
About the Author
is a professor of English at the University of Maryland at College Park. He is the author of The Fall into Eden: Landscape and Imagination in California
and Out of the Sixties: Storytelling and the Vietnam Generation