Jamesland by Michelle Huneven, dining columnist for LA Weekly, gets a good review in the New York Times. And Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books, gives a full thumbs up (sub. required) in the L.A. Times Book Review to The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire. The story of reclusive San Joaquin Valley cotton king Boswell is by Times staffers Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman, who got the old man to talk.
Although California's water wars have been covered elsewhere, I do not know of any writers who have done so with more capaciousness, thoughtfulness, originality or integrity than Arax and Wartzman..
As for the centerpiece of the story, Boswell hardly seems likable. But neither is he an embodiment of evil. Arax and Wartzman acknowledge his work on behalf of the Nature Conservancy, his insistence on paying his salaried employees relatively well, his other charitable deeds. Yet while the authors make heroic efforts to be impartial, one cannot help but feel moral outrage seeping through the paragraphs outrage at people's dreams turned putrid and a landscape poisoned in the midst of such stunning agricultural wealth.
"The King of California" is a thoroughly moving, deeply rendered and utterly trustworthy book. Perhaps because of the authors' backgrounds as reporters, one feels that this multilayered account is rooted not in ideology or advocacy but in anecdote, history and a sense of dispassionate investigative reporting.
Arax is the longtime LAT reporter in Fresno whose first book, In My Father's Name, was about the search for his father's killers. Wartzman is the paper's Business Editor. Boswell is the featured book currently at CaliforniaAuthors.com.