Five Fires

Five Fires : Race, Catastrophe, and the Shaping of California

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In this wholly original study, cultural historian and critic David Wyatt uses the story of fire to tell the story of California. Wyatt focuses this "catastrophic history" of his native state on five events 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 counterpart 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, Wyatt claims, has burned all throughout California's history, and he artfully examines its effects on both the Chinese immigration experience and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. With an energetic style, Wyatt shows how all of these events were recorded and responded to in the works of the imagination that have shaped our collective understanding of the Golden State, from the writings of Raymond Chandler and Amy Tan, to the photography of Ansel Adams and the films of Roman more

Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 157.48 x 223.52 x 20.32mm | 544.31g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0195127412
  • 9780195127416

About David Wyatt

David Wyatt 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 more

Review quote

"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 Reviewsshow more

Rating details

7 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 14% (1)
4 71% (5)
3 14% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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