The Heart of California: Exploring the San Joaquin Valley (Paperback)
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A vivid journey through California’s vast rural interior, The Heart of California weaves the story of historian Frank Latta’s forgotten 1938 boat trip from Bakersfield to San Francisco with Aaron Gilbreath’s trip retracing Latta’s route by car during the 2014 drought. Latta embarked on his journey to publicize the need for dams and levees to improve flood control. Gilbreath made his own trip to profile Latta and the productive agricultural world that damming has created in the San Joaquin Valley, to describe the region’s nearly lost indigenous culture and ecosystems, and to bring this complex yet largely ignored landscape to life.
The Valley is home to some of California’s fastest growing cities and, by some estimates, produces 25 percent of America’s food. The Valley feeds too many people, and is too unique, to be ignored. To understand California, you have to understand the Valley. Mixing travel writing, historical recreations, western history, natural history, and first-person reportage, The Heart of California is a road-trip narrative about this fascinating region and its most important early documentarian.
“Aaron Gilbreath uses his keen eye and environmental consciousness, historical records, and the occasional imaginative flight to give us an invaluable portrait of an overlooked place.”—Thomas Swick, author of A Way to See the World
“The Heart of California is a quickly moving history with unexpected adventure. There’s a little Joan Didion, James D. Houston, Gerald Haslam, Kevin Starr, and Mark Arax in these pages. Aaron Gilbreath’s observations are an extension of these writers and, I could argue, their equal.”—Gary Soto, author of The Elements of San Joaquin
“This is what the San Joaquin Valley looks and sounds like and how it feels.”—Don Thompson, native Valley poet and author of Back Roads
“Without question, riding downriver through the San Joaquin Valley’s past and present with Aaron Gilbreath is one of the greatest and most unexpected journeys I’ve taken in a long, long time.”—Joe Donnelly, author of L.A. Man: Profiles from a Big City and a Small World
“Add The Heart of California to your list of essential reading, for it expands and deepens the Golden State’s image to include gritty realities and small triumphs too often ignored. There’s no understanding the state without also understanding the sometimes remote, but essential realities Gilbreath explores. Organized around Frank F. Latta’s 1938 rowboat trip up the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco Bay, this book recounts an adventure writ small but with large implications. Welcome to a new regional classic.”—Gerald W. Haslam, editor of Many Californias: Literature from the Golden State