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The King Of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of A Secret American Empire [Paperback]

Our Price $ 18.69  
Retail Value $ 21.99  
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Item Number 441151  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   558
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.5" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   1.3 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 15, 2005
Publisher   PublicAffairs
Age  16-11
ISBN  1586482815  
EAN  9781586482817  

Availability  26 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 24, 2016 03:09.
Usually ships within one to two business days from Roseburg, OR.
Orders shipping to an address other than a confirmed Credit Card / Paypal Billing address may incur and additional processing delay.

Item Description...
J.G. Boswell is the biggest farmer in America. Over the past fifty years he has built a secret empire while thumbing his nose at nature, politicians, labor unions and every journalist who ever tried to lift the veil on the ultimate "factory in the fields." Now eighty years old, with an almost pathological bent toward privacy, Boswell has spent the past few years confiding one of the great stories of the American West to Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman. The King of California is the previously untold account of how a Georgia slave-owning family migrated to California in the early 1920s,drained one of America 's biggest lakes in an act of incredible hubris and carved out the richest cotton empire in the world. Indeed, the sophistication of Boswell 's agricultural operation -from lab to field to gin - is unrivaled anywhere.

Much more than a business story, this is a sweeping social history that details the saga of cotton growers who were chased from the South by the boll weevil and brought their black farmhands to California. It is a gripping read with cameos by a cast of famous characters, from Cecil B. DeMille to Cesar Chavez.

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More About Mark Arax & Rick Wartzman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Mark Arax is a contributing writer at "Los Angeles" magazine and a former senior writer at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of "West of the West." Rick Wartzman is the Director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University in California, a fellow of the New America Foundation, and the author of "Obscene in the Extreme." He was formerly the business editor for the "Los Angeles Times" and a reporter for the "Wall Street Journal."""

Mark Arax was born in 1956.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Another Fine Chapter in California's History  May 3, 2008
This particular chapter details the rise of a farming empire in California's Central Valley. Coming from Greene County Georgia, the Boswell family built this empire largely on the backs of migrant labor and water--lots and lots of water. One other point: on the way to becoming one of the largest landowners in California, the Boswell's forever reshaped the landscape and drained Tulare Lake.

Prior to settlement, the Central Valley's river floodplain system nourished some 1.4 million acres of tule marshes and wooded wetlands. The draining of vast sweeps of wetlands along with the damming and channeling of four major rivers has altered the landscape in both a manner and at a scale that is, quite literally, unprecedented. If you wanted to focus on a single family/farming empire that played the biggest role in this alternation, then you could do no better than The King of California.

Tulare Lake lies near the southern end of California's Central Valley. The proximity of such a huge, seasonal lake to a large farming operation was a mixed blessing. During dry years, as the shoreline contracted, the land could be transformed to grow grain or row crops. In wet years, however, as the Sierra Nevada snow pack melted, the runoff of the Kings, Kaweah, Tule, and Kern Rivers filled this basin. The big runoff produced high flows into July and August, resulting in a vast and expanding lake shore. The flooded farmland resulted in less crops, less money... J.G. Boswell was determined to rein these waters in and convinced the Federal Government to help.

In an errant attempt to encourage small family farms, loopholes in the reclamation laws brought most of the land in the Central Valley under the control of a handful of private landowners. The Californian land barons went by the names of Henry Miller, J. G. Boswell, and "Cockeye" Salyer. The land around Tulare Lake eventually got folded into Boswell farming empire. In the final analysis, the Boswell's got the land, the water rights, and handed the tax-payers the bill for the construction of Pine Flat Dam on the Kings River.

I feel a bit of guilt when I throw on a mass produced cotton T-shirt (e.g., I can buy a three-pack for under ten dollars). Because this cheap cotton underwear really isn't that cheap. Mass produced cotton uses a lot of water. In fact, to grow a single T-shirt takes 257 gallons of water. If you own a piece of cotton underwear, chances are pretty good it's fibers came from land in California's Central Valley. And by default, you can be sure the Boswell family grew it. The King of California tells the interesting story of how the Boswells became the single largest grower of cotton in the United States.
Well Worth A Read  Jan 21, 2008
As a transplant to California, I picked this book up out of historical curiosity and, from that perspective, it does not disappoint. The story of the Boswell Company's growth and not-infrequent run-ins with regulators and legislators is an interesting, eminently readable history of California itself.

Water rights and agriculture policy are, rather dry subjects in and of themselves, but told as part of the story of this interesting family and company, they come to life.

The only drawback of the book is that the authors can barely conceal their utter contempt for their subject. In numerous places, they abandon all journalistic detachment and express their opinion as fact, usually in a blistering condemnation of their target.

Consider this screed against former Los Angeles Times Publisher Harrison Gray Otis on page 83: "Otis was a fourth-rate publisher and first-rate bully who used the columns of his disgraceful newspaper to spill bile and venom at organized labor and an infinite list of enemies, real and imagined."-- Fact or Opinion?

The authors' inherent bias notwithstanding, they did a good job of research and crafted an engaging narrative.
Great friggin book.  Oct 10, 2007
I'm not feeling real verbose so just let me say that this book illustrates so much more about US history than the mere subject of cotton suggests. The Boswell story is the American story of our moving further and further away from democratic, egalitarian principles in the pursuit of various notions of efficiency.

Great book. A great non-fiction companion piece would be "Wealth and Democracy" by Kevin Philips.
The king of California  Nov 3, 2006
This book is way too long and somewhat redundant and boring. The basic story is good, but the author takes too much time and too many pages to tell it.
History, Biography and Expose?  Jun 23, 2006
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in politics, agriculture, or water rights. It is a well-written and very readable.

It follows four generations of the Boswell family to trace how they assembled the largest industrial farm in the world. Along the way, the authors explore the history of the San Joaquin valley and those who came there to farm it, those who left and those who got left behind. For every group that made a fortune, there were many others who were disappointed. There are plenty of interesting stories of Washington and Sacramento politics, and stories of common people following dreams.

The book examines the effect of large scale farming on farm owners, on those who work the farms now and those who worked them in the past. It provides some good background on the politics of water rights and government involvement in farming, and on the involvement of agriculture in local, state and federal politics.

If you are interested in the politics and history of water in the western states, Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner is one of the best books I have read on any subject.

Write your own review about The King Of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of A Secret American Empire

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