... a thoughtful look at the governor who shaped the state that has always reached the American future before the rest of the country ... Newton, who has published biographies of Dwight Eisenhower and Earl Warren, writes with verve, grace and the advantage over past Brown biographers of covering the finished product, rather than a work in progress ... He and his father, Gov. Pat Brown, had an affectionate but uneasy relationship that Newton sketches with skill, and in his comparisons between father and son he sets the younger Brown in sharp relief ... And there is plenty of commentary in these 448 pages, and people too ... Newton has produced a history of California as much as a biography of Brown ... In the end Newton calls Brown 'a gift to history.' So is his book.
... [a] vivid and admiring biography ... Newton draws upon more than a dozen dialogues with Brown, who has a reputation as a tough interview. These 'sparring' sessions, however, proved well worth it, providing rich firsthand perspective and churlish zingers...to punctuate the lively narrative ... In his conclusion, Newton touches upon California’s 'glaring inequality' ... One only wishes Newton would have delved deeper into the matter.
Newton provides a thorough and sympathetic take on one of California’s most significant and unconventional politicians ... Newton’s biography is also a portrait of a place, and readers who might be turned off by the minutiae of ballot measures and budgets (of which there is enough in this book to satisfy any wonk) will learn about how Brown’s life intersected with significant moments in California’s history, from the Jonestown massacre to the 1992 Los Angeles riots ... Ultimately, Newton seems unable to crack Brown’s inner emotional landscape; he remains inscrutable throughout the book, and that opacity limits the intimacy of this biography, though that might be less a fault of the writer than the nature of the subject himself, especially considering Newton’s exclusive access ... While Brown’s inner life remains fairly opaque, we instead infer character through actions.