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A vivid journey through California’s vast rural interior, The Heart of California weaves the story of historian Frank Latta’s forgotten 1938 boat trip from Bakersfield to San Francisco with Aaron Gilbreath’s trip retracing Latta’s route by car during the 2014 drought. Latta embarked on his journey to publicize the need for dams and levees to improve flood control. Gilbreat A vivid journey through California’s vast rural interior, The Heart of California weaves the story of historian Frank Latta’s forgotten 1938 boat trip from Bakersfield to San Francisco with Aaron Gilbreath’s trip retracing Latta’s route by car during the 2014 drought. Latta embarked on his journey to publicize the need for dams and levees to improve flood control. Gilbreath made his own trip to profile Latta and the productive agricultural world that damming has created in the San Joaquin Valley, to describe the region’s nearly lost indigenous culture and ecosystems, and to bring this complex yet largely ignored landscape to life. The Valley is home to some of California’s fastest growing cities and, by some estimates, produces 25 percent of America’s food. The Valley feeds too many people, and is too unique, to be ignored. To understand California, you have to understand the Valley. Mixing travel writing, historical recreations, western history, natural history, and first-person reportage, The Heart of California is a road-trip narrative about this fascinating region and its most important early documentarian.             


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A vivid journey through California’s vast rural interior, The Heart of California weaves the story of historian Frank Latta’s forgotten 1938 boat trip from Bakersfield to San Francisco with Aaron Gilbreath’s trip retracing Latta’s route by car during the 2014 drought. Latta embarked on his journey to publicize the need for dams and levees to improve flood control. Gilbreat A vivid journey through California’s vast rural interior, The Heart of California weaves the story of historian Frank Latta’s forgotten 1938 boat trip from Bakersfield to San Francisco with Aaron Gilbreath’s trip retracing Latta’s route by car during the 2014 drought. Latta embarked on his journey to publicize the need for dams and levees to improve flood control. Gilbreath made his own trip to profile Latta and the productive agricultural world that damming has created in the San Joaquin Valley, to describe the region’s nearly lost indigenous culture and ecosystems, and to bring this complex yet largely ignored landscape to life. The Valley is home to some of California’s fastest growing cities and, by some estimates, produces 25 percent of America’s food. The Valley feeds too many people, and is too unique, to be ignored. To understand California, you have to understand the Valley. Mixing travel writing, historical recreations, western history, natural history, and first-person reportage, The Heart of California is a road-trip narrative about this fascinating region and its most important early documentarian.             

31 review for The Heart of California: Exploring the San Joaquin Valley

  1. 4 out of 5

    Beth Cato

    I received this book through NetGalley. The Heart of California speaks to my own heart. This is a nonfiction exploration of California’s San Joaquin Valley over the past two centuries. It is about water, and human psychology, and the evolution of land for better and for worse, and about an abiding love and respect for a place often dismissed as “the armpit of California,” The structure of the book follows a journey taken by historian Frank Latta and his sons in 1938, when a tremendous flood year i I received this book through NetGalley. The Heart of California speaks to my own heart. This is a nonfiction exploration of California’s San Joaquin Valley over the past two centuries. It is about water, and human psychology, and the evolution of land for better and for worse, and about an abiding love and respect for a place often dismissed as “the armpit of California,” The structure of the book follows a journey taken by historian Frank Latta and his sons in 1938, when a tremendous flood year inspired him to travel from Bakersfield to San Francisco by boat. If you know anything about modern California geography, that very concept is ludicrous because it's all dry, irrigated farmland. The author, Aaron Gilbreath, adds layers of extra context to the historical travelogue by lacing in information on central California through the precolonial era, the 19th century with Spanish and American settlement, and bringing it into the modern era as he retraces Latta's route as much as he can in 2014 by car. His modern journey is what really got me. He talks to everyone along the way, from the Starbucks barista to the rest stop prostitute to the taco shop cowboy. He nails the vibe and soul of the valley. I know—I am from Hanford, a city to which he devotes an entire chapter. I grew up on stories about when Tulare Lake was actually a lake. The entire valley varies between extremes of flood and drought, and throughout my lifetime, it's been drought. I've read many books on the valley (several of which he cites) and this is among the best. It's thoughtful and deep without being preachy. I am a bit biased because it does focus on my hometown for a while, but most of all, he gets the whole psychology of the valley, for better or worse. I could feel and smell his description of the Bakersfield trailer park by a canal. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the San Joaquin Valley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dree

    This is a tough book to review. I very much enjoyed reading it. It introduced me to so many places I would like to go see (in the winter--not in the summer heat, ugh). It actually has one of the best explanations I have ever read as to WHY the state cannot just "build more dams" to solve the central valley agricultural water crisis--and why giving San Joaquin Valley farmers more water will cause salinity encroachment for Delta farmers, and affect the nutrient balance for the Bay and ocean areas This is a tough book to review. I very much enjoyed reading it. It introduced me to so many places I would like to go see (in the winter--not in the summer heat, ugh). It actually has one of the best explanations I have ever read as to WHY the state cannot just "build more dams" to solve the central valley agricultural water crisis--and why giving San Joaquin Valley farmers more water will cause salinity encroachment for Delta farmers, and affect the nutrient balance for the Bay and ocean areas outside the Golden Gate--which affects commercial and recreational fisheries. The fisheries, the different farming areas--all depend on the seasonal balances of fresh water flowing into the San Francisco Bay and out the Golden Gate. But while the descriptions of places and Gilbreath's chats with people and research on Latta's boat trip are interesting, there are also some very sloppy instances that make me question the rest of Gilbreath's work. (Interestingly, just as he himself wonders about the quality of Latta's work after he was fired from a museum job and ultimately exonerated.) This could have been a 4-star book. I did read and ARC, and for that reason I am not mentioning any typos, be cause those are more likely to have been corrected. I don't usually do this (do I ever do this?), but there is some serious sloppiness here. (Kindle locations) 96 Cougars still prowl the foothills 102 Calls Redding a town. Redding has nearly 100k people. 1391 Female humans on a factory break are called "young girls". Male humans on the same factory's break are called "men". I am pretty sure those female humans are women, not 5-year-olds. This is just offensive and I am so disappointed that Bison Books let this go. 2329 He says groundhogs run across highway 99. There are no groundhogs in California. The closest thing is yellow-bellied marmots, but they only live at high elevations--not along 99! Does he mean ground squirrels? Ground squirrels definitely live along (and in the median of) 99, but there is no way you can mistake a ground squirrel for a groundhog. 2352 Discusses John Muir and Yosemite. In a book that spends so much time discussing the Native peoples of the San Joaquin Valley (as Latta interviewed many elders), it feels like a huge miss that he does not discuss how the feds ejected the Yosemite natives from the valley and the park. 2659 "the...Valley has as many distinguishing marks as your lover's cheeks." Just...what? This is not pa volume of poetry. This line does not fit in with the writing in the rest of the book. 3614 After so much about so many specific locales, we get "the Coyote Hills Regional Park Museum in the southern Bay Area. Just say Fremont. Or southern Alameda County. Chapter 7. Latta died in 1983. Yet Gilbreath did not talk to any of his former high school students, and it is unclear if he talked to any of his 3 living children. After all of his research he bemoaned the fact that some sources seem to be lost to time. But then, after 3 years of writing, he finds an elderly man with a museum in the San Joaquin Valley who has those sources. And who knew Latta and, it seems, his children. Yet he does not go visit, and never gets the sources. This makes this book feel so unfinished. ——— Thank you to NetGalley and Bison Books for providing me with an e-galley of this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    The author explores his passion for the San Joaquin Valley in going through a re-creation of sorts of Frank Latta's boat journey from Bakersfield to San Francisco in 1938. To this end the book is a historical journey and a travelogue. In it we learn of Latta, his passion to preserve the stories of the San Joaquin Valley and the major changes it underwent in living memory, and see the author himself attempting to do something of the sort in his interviews of people with whom he interacts. We learn The author explores his passion for the San Joaquin Valley in going through a re-creation of sorts of Frank Latta's boat journey from Bakersfield to San Francisco in 1938. To this end the book is a historical journey and a travelogue. In it we learn of Latta, his passion to preserve the stories of the San Joaquin Valley and the major changes it underwent in living memory, and see the author himself attempting to do something of the sort in his interviews of people with whom he interacts. We learn of Latta's journey: a one-time possibility after a year of heavy rains, allowing him to follow the Kern into channels which would lead him into Tulare Lake, and from there into the Fresno Slough into the San Joaquin River all the way to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. Such a journey has not been able to be replicated since. The author tells of the heritage of the land from south to north, detailing the story of the Yokuts tribe, Tulare Lake and what happened to it, the desertification of the southernmost part of the valley, the fate of some of the small towns near Fresno, the challenges of life in the valley, and the disconnect and yet interconnectedness of the valley and the two major population centers of San Francisco and Los Angeles. We learn of all kinds of colorful characters from Latta's day and our own. It's a fun read; I appreciated learning more about the San Joaquin Valley, even though I tend to be one who drives through it heading to other destinations. It's sobering to consider just how much has changed so quickly, and to wonder how sustainable it can all prove to be. **--galley received as part of early review program

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amber MV

  7. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

  8. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lesley Kay

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Wallace

  11. 5 out of 5

    William Anderson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Davis

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  14. 4 out of 5

    Liz Prato

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  17. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anya

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gina Rios

  20. 5 out of 5

    Megan Hedrich

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  22. 5 out of 5

    Garrett Fritz

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hayley Marilao

  24. 5 out of 5

    Steve Taylor

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  26. 4 out of 5

    ✨ Alexandra Tsao-Trim ✨

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christina Zable

  29. 4 out of 5

    Justine Dymond

  30. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Orlando Leppert

  31. 5 out of 5

    Jay Hinman

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