Five Fires by David Wyatt: A Final Review

five firesMy plan was to read Five Fires one chapter a time, the way I did with Kevin Starr’s book California.   While this didn’t exactly give me a legion of new followers, it was a very useful way for me to read the book since it allowed me to really focus on each chapter in more depth as a way to truly learn from reading it.  I’m not just reading up on California history for fun, though it is fun.  My goal here is to become more knowledgeable about the state, especially the gold rush period, in the hopes of one day becoming a local history tour guide.  Part of our retirement plan.

Reading and reviewing one chapter at a time is a good way to retain the information read.

But, it just wasn’t working out with Five Fires.

I enjoyed the book, I think it’s a worthwhile read, but not one that benefits from this chapter by chapter treatment.

Mr. Wyatt explores his topic by looking at the literary artifacts California has produced, rather than pursuing a more traditional historical approach.  The last part of his book looks at movies, namely Chinatown, to study how the use of water has affected California, government reports as a means of looking at the Watts riots and the various videotaped footage of Rodney King and the riots that followed the trials of his attackers.

As an English major who will admit to enjoying critical theory now and then, I loved all of this.  Looking at not just history, but at how it’s artifacts created meaning was fascinating reading.  I’d love to take a one of Mr. Wyatt’s courses.

I’m not sure which book on California history I’ll be reading next, but I think I’ll be focusing on the Gold Rush again.  I just bought a copy of The World Rushed In which is a famed first hand account by J.S. Holliday.

I think it will be fun.

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