...[an] exhaustive, deeply reported account ... The chronicle of California agriculture has always been mixed — half environmental nightmare, half remarkable success story — and Arax gives himself enough room to report on the positives as well ... Granted, there are times when The Dreamt Land feels overstuffed and chaotically organized, as if Arax decided to include every relevant newspaper feature he’s ever proposed to an editor. But I suspect that few other journalists could have written a book as personal and authoritative ... As Arax makes plain in this important book, it’s been the same story in California for almost two centuries now: When it comes to water, 'the resource is finite. The greed isn’t.'
...riveting ... The Dreamt Land is imbued with deep attachment to place. Arax is a native son descended from Armenian immigrants to the valley; he’s spent most of his working life there...This is a deeply reported work keenly alive to local subcultures — often conditioned by soil and access to water — that debunks notions of the valley as monolithic, like the single crops in its fields ... [Arax] avoids simple vilification of growers, and such prescriptions as he offers — for instance, de-commissioning junk land — are incremental ... Arax is especially insightful on the political currents roiling this Trumpy enclave.
In his sprawling, provocative book, journalist Mark Arax examines California’s long-building water crisis with the keen, loving, troubled eye of a native son ... Although dense with information, The Dreamt Land assumes an urgent, personal tone and incorporates history, memoir and the lives of larger-than-life personalities ... it is a story biblical in scope and cautionary in tenor.
a sweeping, engrossing history ...The author offers sharply etched portraits of some of the most imperious landowners ... Drawing on historical sources and nearly 300 interviews, Arax reveals the consequences to land and wildlife of generations of landowners who have defiantly dug, dammed, and diverted California’s waters. A stunning history of power, arrogance, and greed.
Few writers are better equipped to tell the story than Arax ... Arax narrates this tumultuous history skillfully, and if he isn’t completely successful in explicating the byzantine tangle of California water law, maybe it’s because nobody could be. He shines in profiling the gamblers, grifters and irrigation proselytizers who battled to make the valley their own ... 'Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive,' Joan Didion writes in The White Album. The line is both astute and illustrative of the way water, land and the conjunction of the two have inspired some of California’s most powerful writing: Didion, Mary Austin’s lyrical The Land of Little Rain, Norris Hundley’s authoritative The Great Thirst, William Kahrl’s gorgeous, shamefully out-of-print The California Water Atlas, and, jumping genres, Chinatown, with its water-crazed Mephistopheles, Noah Cross. The Dreamt Land earns its place alongside them.
Arax’s narrative flows best when describing colorful figures ... Arax’s highly readable guide to understanding an essential slice of California history also tracks the sometimes-precarious fate of the fruits and vegetables that feed our nation.