The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California
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.
This is a heartfelt, beautifully written book about the land and the people who have worked it–from gold miners to wheat ranchers to small fruit farmers and today’s Big Ag. Since the beginning, Californians have redirected rivers, drilled ever-deeper wells and built higher dams, pushing the water supply past its limit.
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.
This is a tale of politics and hubris in the arid West, of imported workers left behind in the sun and the fatigued earth that is made to give more even while it keeps sinking. But when drought turns to flood once again, all is forgotten as the farmers plant more nuts and the developers build more houses.
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.
Praise for The Dreamt Land
“[An] exhaustive, deeply reported account… 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.'”—Gary Krist, The New York Times Book Review
“You can’t understand California without understanding water, and no one is better at doing that than Mark Arax, whose depth of knowledge about the Central Valley is organic and unparalleled. Plus, he writes like a dream.” —Mark Bittman, author of Food Matters
“Mark Arax’s monumental new book on California’s water system underscores the madness that makes the Golden State an agricultural powerhouse. [The Dreamt Land] is a compelling and powerful history of how power and greed shape the land, and Arax has achieved a masterful distillation of how California got here, warts and all.” —Civil Eats
About the Author
Mark Arax is an author and journalist whose writings on California and the West have received numerous awards for literary nonfiction. A former staffer at the Los Angeles Times, his work has appeared in The New York Times and the California Sunday Magazine. His books include a memoir of his father’s murder, a collection of essays about the West, and the best-selling The King of California, which won a California Book Award, the William Saroyan Prize from Stanford University, and was named a top book of 2004 by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in Fresno, California.
Additional Work by Mark Arax
“Gone,” in The California Sunday Magazine, July 2019.