Californians who made a splash in history

REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books

Californians who made a splash in historyBy DONNA MCCROHAN ROSENTHAL

Three excellent books that came out this year shed light on California’s ascension to prominence on the world stage, each written from a different perspective.

“Phoebe Apperson Hearst: A Life of Power and Politics” (by Alexandra M. Nickliss, B&W photos, indexed, Bison Book, University of Nebraska Press, hardcover, 664 pages, $39.95) presents one of the Gilded Age’s most influential philanthropists, a Progressive Era reformer, suffragist and supporter of causes ranging from education to anthropology. This absorbing biography follows her from rural Missouri in 1842 to the San Francisco Bay Area. As the wife of mining tycoon and U.S. Senator George Hearst, Phoebe gave birth to William Randolph Hearst. By age 48 with the death of her husband, she controlled the entire family estate with intelligence and aplomb.

Nickliss explores Phoebe’s relationship with son media magnate William, including helping him financially at a time when his San Francisco Examiner ran up losses of $40,000 of income per month. But we see Phoebe primarily as a concerned citizen who believed that women could solve political problems that men couldn’t quite grasp. Her efforts extended worldwide.

“California at War: The State and the People During World War I” (Diane M. T. North, photos, indexed, University Press of Kansas, hardcover, 496 pages, $29.95) details the Golden State’s rise in economic, social and cultural standing to command global stature. Even before the U.S. entered the hostilities, California’s agriculture fed British troops. Later, WWI added Army training camps and airfields and boosted Hollywood’s film industry.

North’s stories about diverse men and women offer new insights on early prosperity, deep patriotism and a groundswell in private citizens’ organizations, yet also reveal an unexpected aspect of surveillance, vigilantism, and neighbor pitted against neighbor. “California at War” chronicles a legacy that, as North capably maintains, plays out in current affairs today.

“The Browns of California” (Miriam Pawel, ample B&W photos, indexed, 483 pages, Bloomsbury Publishing, hardcover, $35.00) sweeps from the Gold Rush to Silicon Valley. Beginning with Prussian immigrant August Schuckman, it continues through one governor after another, Pat and Jerry. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Pawel spins an impeccable nonfiction multigenerational saga that you don’t find in the headlines.

Nickliss, North, and Pawel have done fine, fascinating work on some of modern California’s roots, and one family tree.

This monthly column is written by members of Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Thursday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at the Historic USO Building, Jawbone Canyon, Maturango Museum and Red Rock Books.

Story First Published: 2018-12-14