Book recommendations

I am very much enjoying Up and Down California, by William Brewer.  It is an account of his surveying trips in 1860-1864.  The intermittent racism and sexism are a terrible reflection of his time, but the rest is tremendous.  I wish I could see that California.

I would welcome book recommendations as well.  My queue is empty.  I would love books similar to these:

  • Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, Sam Quinones
  • The Only Rule is It Has To Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team, Lindberg and Miller
  • Trustee from the Toolroom, Shute

Which, when put together like that, have a unifying theme of industrious and clever problem-solving.  Perhaps I am in a mood for problem-solving.



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17 responses to “Book recommendations

  1. Folky Water Nerd

    That is a great book. It was from my grandfather’s library. I have published/posted a few times, excerpts or summaries of the portion describing the 1861/62 “great flood” event.


    John Muir – The Mountains of California (these titles are from memory). Not part of your theme, but comparable to the Up and Down California reference. Any of these documentations through diaries, travelogues, etc of earlier California are eye opening. I read parts of a manifest from a “collector” on contract with the Smithsonian to “kill one of everything” for mounting and archiving. Quite impressive now as a document that verifies the presence and range of wolves, grizzlies and other predators in California.

    William Blomquist – Dividing the Waters (a most interesting survey/narrative of how some of the southern California groundwater basins were adjudicated or voluntarily managed and not adjudicated). This is in your theme as he touches on the aspects of various judgment structures and governance/management frameworks and how they worked or didn’t work well for basin management. A professor at Indiana University, he has continued to research and write on subjects such as watershed management. He’s currently a visiting professor at Stanford (or so Google just told me). I’ll have to look him up and see if he remembers our earlier meeting years ago.

  2. If you haven’t read Rebecca Solnit, you really should. You might like “A Paradise Built in Hell” or “Storming the Gates of Paradise.”

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Reading books is not among my options these days – I was able to squeeze in Timothy Egan’s ‘The Big Burn’ last year and recommend it highly to the two or three of you out there that haven’t read it yet – but I winced at mention of Brewer’s ‘Up and Down California’. I once owned a first edition copy of the book complete with the maps in the pockets/the works, given to me by an old friend whose father-in-law was an ancient Yale School of Forestry faculty member (‘looping back to Roosevelt, Pinchot and Egan’s ‘The Big Burn’). In 1983, down and out, we bought Strawberry Lodge on Highway 50 for a $1 million that we didn’t have and in the whirlwind transition from middle-class Sacramento life to that of roadhouse-keepers, I placed our books and our family dining table in an alcove off the lobby for our guests’ use and, wouldn’t you know it, the only book that I know for sure that disappeared in our Strawberry Lodge years was Brewer’s.

  4. try “Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy. absolutely fabulous + problem-solving.

  5. TJ

    Mark Arax: West of the West, the King of California

    Terry Bouton: Taming Democracy

    Jared Farmer: Trees in Paradise

    Sarah Vowell: Unfamiliar Fishes

    Fred Anderson: Crucible of War

    Nick Bunker: Making Haste From Babylon

  6. As luck would have it Brewer was here for the Big One, the winter of 1861-62, the one that Robert Kelley has helped so many of us appreciate, which Brewer describes in part here: “The amount of rain that has fallen is unprecedented in the history of the state. In this city accurate observations have been kept since July 1853. For the years since, ending with July 1 each year, the amount of rain is known . . . This year, since November 6, when the first shower came, to January 18, it is thirty-two and three-quarters inches and it is still raining! But this is not all, generally twice, sometimes three times, as much falls in the mining districts on the slopes of the Sierra. This year at Sonora, in Tuolumne County, between November 11, 1861 and January 14, 1862, seventy-two inches (six feet) of water had fallen, and in numbers of places over five feet! And that in a period of two months.”

    Did anyone else notice that Tuolumne was among the counties (Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne) that were not relieved by the Gov’s drought’s-off order today? Tuolumne? How did that happen? Raining like heck in the Bay Area tonight, trying to break a 122-year record!

  7. Mark Wildermuth

    Book recommendation — The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

  8. Bill Deaver

    The Brewer book is also available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book for $14.95. I have ordered a sample.

    Thanks for the heads-up!

    Bill Deaver

    P.O. Box 1113 – Mojave CA 93502-1113

    661.824.8417 – 661.754.3090 (Mobile)

  9. Doug Wallace

    Check out “The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf. All about the once-famous Alexander von Humboldt and his unsurpassed influence on thinkers from Darwin to Thoreau to Muir. He foresaw climate change in the early 1800s. A true genius, and a wonderful telling.

  10. Phil Isenberg

    Highway 99: a literary journey through California’s Great Central Valley (1996) edited by Stan Yogi, Heyday Books in cooperation with the California Council for the Humanities.
    Hard to find a better or more interesting read that this compendium of essays, poems, narratives and what not. You will recognize many of the authors, but be sure to look for the following:
    Juan Filipe Herrera, the former Poet Laureate of California, and current PL of the United States. You get a flavor of his work in Highway 99. Then move on to Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler (2002) the University of Arizona Press.
    Philip Levine, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet of the industrial working class of Detroit where he was born. He spent 30 years teaching in the CSU Fresno English Department. formerly of CSU Fresno. To start, take a look at his long poem Magpiety (p. 399)
    David Mas Masumoto has written a lot about growing up in the Central Valley, farming peaches and life in general.
    Ernesto Galarza, author of Barrio Boy, a terrific history of growing up in Sacramento. A short extract is included.
    Policy-Making……and ‘policy-makers’
    Statutes of California: 1850. Thanks to Google and the Stanford University Library, you can find out what the founding fathers of California did during the first legislative session: Find out how the Common Law of England came to California, and compare the statutory language to present-day speeches about ‘water rights’. Hint: Chapter 95. Read it all, since so much is still relevant today. Who would have thought that the Bay Pilots, who guide ships in and out of San Francisco Bay were created by the third bill passed by the our legislature and signed by the Governor (Chapter 3)!
    A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving (2000) Eugene Bardach, Catham House Seven Bridges Press. A description of the perfect world of policy analysis; a useful counter-point to the messy world of policy-making
    Thinking in Time: the Uses of History for Decision-Makers (1986), Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, The Free Press. The authors for years taught a course at Harvard’s Kennedy School for senior level policy types in DC. This is a collection of their stories/examples.
    Watching Politicians: Essays on Participant Observation (1990) Richard F. Fenno, Jr., IGS Press. Fenno has written for a very long time on the activities of Congress. His research is observation, not statistics or regression analysis.
    Bureaucracy: what Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (1989) James Q. Wilson, Basic Books, Inc. Now deceased, but a well-known conservative political scientist writes about the federal government and its agencies, the German army in WW II and a million other things. Turgid writing, but a surprisingly fair minded view of government.
    Beautiful Evidence (2006) Edward R. Tufte, The Graphics Press. Read this to get an idea of how useful it is to have clear graphic displays of policy information.
    Finally, you need to read some novels and short stories about politics, politicians and lobbyists. I recommend almost anything by Ward Just, but particularly the novels Jack Gance (1989), Echo House (1997), and the story The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert (1973).
    Things Water, science and policy-making
    Ecological Challenges and Conservation Conundrums: Essays and Reflections for a Changing World (2016) John A. Wiens, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Wiens is a current member of the Delta Independent Science Board. This collection of short essays about water, science and policy-making is funny, understandable and likely to make any reader pause and think about what he says.
    Making the Most of Mess: Reliability and Policy in Today’s Management Challenges (2013) Emery Roe, Duke University Press. Roe is a senior associate at the UC Berkeley Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. He argues that natural resource management is inherently messy, and our search for perfect solutions is a waste of time. Get on with it, says Roe, and urges policy-makers to manage a messy situation as best they can, and avoid turning a mess into a catastrophe.

  11. freight train

    “The Octopus” by Frank Norris – the classic California novel from 1901 about water rights and big ag and the railways.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Kahneman went to graduate school with my parents. (But I’ve never met him.)

  12. Bob Harrington

    Wholly unrelated to water policy, but for problem solving under horrendous circumstances, I would recommend ‘Command and Control’ by Eric Schlosser.

  13. Martha

    Two years before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana — you’ll get a neat look at old California Monterey and Los Angeles

    Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner — nice glimpse of the mines south of San Jose and a touch in the Monterey area (and grass valley)

    California: the Great Exception by Carey McWilliams — great insights on early 20th century california