Miriam Pawel’s fascinating book ... bills her family saga as a 'lens through which to tell a unique history of the 31st state,' but it does much more. Her engaging narrative of the politics, ideas and policies of the two Edmund Browns illuminates the sea change in the nation’s politics in the last half of the 20th century ... Pawel portrays Brown as a thoughtful visionary whose faith in the emancipatory potential of the free market helped usher in the nation’s second Gilded Age. Neoliberal economic policies, often associated with conservative Republicans, appealed to iconoclastic Democrats like Brown, who were hostile to bureaucracy and skeptical of establishment institutions. But Jerry Brown’s counterculturally-inflected distrust of government has helped make liberal California the poverty capital of America.
Pawel’s narrative is unflaggingly direct, but it also functions as deep art, for the book is actually a history of California posing as a family portrait. Whether it’s the Gold Rush, Japanese internment, Free Speech Movement, Watts riots, Proposition 13 or climate change, the Brown story reflects large portions of California’s past and much of its present. Politics is often the topic at hand; at other times, it takes its place in a larger social tableau ... Although much of the spotlight falls on Pat and Jerry Brown, Pawel gives full consideration to Kathleen Brown’s career, including her term as state treasurer and 1994 gubernatorial bid. We also learn a great deal about Pat’s mother, Ida Schuckman Brown; his wife, Bernice; and Anne Gust Brown, Jerry’s wife. They are presented not as foils or assistants, but rather as distinctive figures with their own goals, dispositions and accomplishments ... By reminding us that a single family has produced so much of the state’s leadership, Pawel’s skillful portrait also raises an imminent question: What’s next?
In a multigenerational saga that focuses on governors Pat and Jerry Brown, veteran journalist Miriam Pawel has written a vivid history of a political dynasty that has governed the Golden State for nearly a quarter century ... Deftly contrasting Pat’s era of boom-boom public spending with Jerry’s focus on fiscal restraint, Ms. Pawel paints a powerful portrait of this complex but loving father-son relationship ... Ms. Pawel recognizes the limits of attempting to write the definitive book on a family dynasty while its scion is still in power ... Future historians may not treat the Browns so kindly. But Ms. Pawel, with her extensive interviews, deep archival research and brilliant synthesis, has made an enormous contribution to the historical record.
Government can feel too big for any one man, woman or family to have made a real difference. But in an elegantly structured and engrossing new book, The Browns of California, longtime California writer Miriam Pawel argues it’s one family in particular that has helped California become not just an exceptional hunk of land on the edge of an ocean but an ever-updating blueprint for all the ways America can be better ... Flipping through the chapters, the book can take on the feel of a Forrest Gump romp: But in truth, from the Gold Rush to Apple Computers to the great trauma of Proposition 13, which gutted the tax code, there really was a Brown waving from pretty close to the center of every moment of California’s fascinating history ... Pawel's book slows a bit at the end, perhaps cowed by the difficulty of wrestling with a subject who is still alive and various decisions still being made ... the final fifth of this wonderful and essential book highlights what might be the most important—and most broadly relevant factor—that makes the Brown family and its home state of California so key to understanding where America is, and where it might be headed.
In vibrant detail, Pawel introduces us to the parts of California that mattered most to the Browns, revealing how the state forged its leading political dynasty ... the Brown family story is enlivened with densely textured settings and carefully selected vignettes ... This is not a comprehensive California history disguised as political biography. This is something new: a California panorama and an intimate family portrait captured in a single frame. What it reveals about the Browns more than proves the merits of the approach—although it might also leave some readers wondering why so much of California history is left out.
While clearly sympathetic to the Browns, Pawel is not an apologist for some of their less-popular actions or less-effective policies. She notes both the good and the bad, which makes for a refreshing read ... Well researched, with an extensive bibliography of primary sources, this work will appeal to both scholarly and armchair historians, as well as readers with an interest in contemporary politics, California history, modern history, family history, and biography.
Pawel...expertly mines family archives, oral histories, and interviews with contemporary sources to fully and for the first time chronicle the origins and accomplishments of this remarkable clan ... Pawel vividly and insightfully chronicles Jerry’s two terms as governor, his years in the political wilderness, his rebirth as a progressive mayor of Oakland, and his return to the governorship. This fine and engaging political saga tracks both the Brown family and the growth of the state they have served.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Pawel...continues to explore the California political landscape with this well-written and deeply researched dual biography ... The backdrop for all of this is the rich history of California, illuminated with small historical details that are a testament to Pawel’s research. In her capable hands, readers will find the Browns and California captivating subjects.
A vivid portrait of California’s land and people emerges from a sympathetic family biography. Drawing on interviews, oral histories, and extensive archival sources, journalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning editor Pawel...examines California’s colorful, dramatic, and turbulent history through her biography ... A well-informed history of a powerful dynasty.