• The Dreamt Land

  • Chasing Water and Dust Across California
  • By: Mark Arax
  • Narrated by: Mark Arax
  • Length: 25 hrs and 32 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (239 ratings)

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The Dreamt Land  By  cover art

The Dreamt Land

By: Mark Arax
Narrated by: Mark Arax
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Publisher's summary

A vivid, searching journey into California's capture of water and soil - the epic story of a people's defiance of nature and the wonders, and ruin, it has wrought

Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with California's relentless growth.

The Dreamt Land weaves reportage, history and memoir to confront the "Golden State" myth in riveting fashion. No other chronicler of the West has so deeply delved into the empires of agriculture that drink so much of the water. The nation's biggest farmers - the nut king, grape king, and citrus queen - tell their story here for the first time.

Arax, the native son, is persistent and tough as he treks from desert to delta, mountain to valley. What he finds is hard-earned, awe-inspiring, tragic, and revelatory. In the end, his compassion for the land becomes an elegy to the dream that created California and now threatens to undo it.

©2019 Mark Arax (P)2019 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic reviews

"There’s a new history of water use in California that’s fantastic. It’s called The Dreamt Land. It’s like John McPhee-level writing. It’s really worth it for the writing alone." (Linda Ronstadt)

"A mesmerizing new book that examines the nation’s most populous state through the prism of its most valuable resource: water. Call author Mark Arax, an award-winning journalist, historian and native son of the Central Valley, a Steinbeck for the 21st century." (Andy Kroll, Rolling Stone)

"The Dreamt Land is Arax’s grand history of California water, beginning before Spanish arrival and following the trail of man-made decisions that exacerbate the present.... Everyone can go back to pretending the land has been tamed as the fields and orchards once again expand. The Dreamt Land leaves us with the question: When the next dry spell comes, will we have gone too far?" (Gregory Barber, Wired)

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Damn Near Perfect!

"The Dreamt Land" is almost perfect. It takes a pretty mundane topic, agriculture in California's Central Valley, and weaves fascinating story full of memorable character in language that is often poetic. It is an ode to a simpler time in California, but it recognizes that in reality those halcyon days ended with the Gold Rush.

The audio version might even be better than the print version because of Arax's reading. Normally, I believe authors make a mistake when they do not turn over the reading to trained voice actors, but Arax is the exception that proves the rule. His reading actually adds to the text, because he verbally underlines the most important passages and brings out a deeper layer of meaning and emotion.

Just brilliant!

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The folly of California water management

What began as apocalyptic grew into engrossing story of the folly agribusiness in the Central Valley supported by corruption negligence and incompetence of those trusted stewards of California’s most valuable resource- water

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Somewhat Disappointing

I was really looking forward to listening to this book, especially because the authors of books tend to be the best narrators; certainly on that count the book is great. However, there were several things about the book that didn't sit right with me. First, the author has written a history intertwined with many stories, including his own, which is great and unique, but as a result the tone of the book is overly poetic and polemical. A little bit of each of these would certainly make for a more compelling read, but in this book they overpower the general history, often at the expense of coherently communicating basic historical information. The other issue I had with the book is that while I don't begrudge the other his own opinion on the issue of water and agriculture in California, he often strays into topics that are only tangentially relevant and for which is polemic is neither professional nor accurate. The primary instance of this phenomenon concerns Father Junipero Serra. The author has wholly imbibed a completely shallow and ahistorical understanding of the Saint and the foundation of the mission system in California. More than this, he perpetuates easily refutes myths and simply gets many things factually incorrect when discussing this topic. Despite supposedly having consulted sources of all persuasions on the controversial questions of Father Serra, it quickly becomes clear that he took his own bias with him into reading the work of others, the conclusion about whether Serra was a hero or a villain, as the other has it, preordained. Ultimately it's a good book, but the aforementioned tone and poetical style makes it rather hard to listen to at long sittings, or want to come back to listening because of the feeling that one has heard many well spoken words but not really learned any of the important historical information.

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Spectacular book, beautifully written

Mark Arax does an amazing job weaving the history of the California Central Valley, its agriculture and the water that makes it possible, and the overreach and often shady dealing involved in getting that water. He illustrates the major developments with the stories of key families and places that shows their motivation and struggles in the context of their times. A fascinating history written with an often almost poetic turn of phrase that reflects his love and sadness for the Valley.

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Great story and narration by one of our own

I loved it. I am a fifth generation farmer in the Valley, and while I don't agree with all of his conclusions, Mark understands who we are and he loves the Valley. This is a must read for anyone in California.

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Should be mandatory reading for every citizen.

I loved this book. My story is this story. This is our history. This is my country and how it works. If more people want to understand how we got here, this book gives context and historical context. I will recommend it to everyone I know.

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Fascinating and Hard To Put Down

The detail that Mark Arax provides is incredible and so engaging.
The story is so important to tell. Mark does an excellent job of doing so!

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Wonderful and Depressing

I have lived in California, all my life, 60 years. I’ve come to love it as a state of mind, as well as a state of place. I’ve known little of the history after the early missionaries, especially of agriculture, early speculators and settlers. This book was an eye-opener. I learned a lot, but came away sad for my children and grandchildren at the state of the state that they are inheriting with climate change. And then I went to the natural resources defense fund and made a donation. That’s the group that beat Pat Brown finally even though it took years and restored water to the rivers for the chinook salmon. Thank you Mark for a wonderful read.

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The whole truth of the San Joaquin Valley

If you have ever wondered why Water is such a topic for argument in Fresno and the Central Valley, Mark Arax has the receipts.

He tells the origins of brands you know like “Sun Maid, Cuties, Pom Wonderful and Halos.”

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A long story that everyone should read

This should be required reading, and then be acted upon by those who have the ability to turn the ship. As it has been noted many times by voices, which remain unheard by politicians water is an infinite resource famously noted by the explorer, John Wesley Paul, by Ansel Adams, and more individuals of thev1900s or last century. California is trying to be everything for everyone. When will our last water resource run out and leave us completely dry? So much in town for me between crap developing in the central valley, rerouting of rivers, and overpromising water to new housing developments. At some point this will probably come to a screeching halt, and there will be no more water to spread around. Read this book and weep.

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