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An Oldie but Goodie

I’m sure readers everywhere pick up a book they remember reading a decade ago, are interested enough to read it again, and remain firm in their belief that it’s STILL a great read.

For example “The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California” by Curt Gentry written in 1968. Combining the history and culture of the state, north and south, politics. and seismology the book is an obituary for a state destroyed in an earthquake at an undisclosed future date.

As a retired librarian I love documentation of random facts I never knew about the state that fill the book. When written in the mid-60’s author Gentry proclaimed “California led the nation in divorce, crime, auto fatalities, venereal disease and alcoholism people smoked 142.7 packs of cigarettes a year and housed the world’s largest bank and led all the states in bank stick-ups and bankruptcy filings.”

Gentry explores how Reagan beat Pat Brown for governor, and the student protests at UC Berkeley and the Watts riots. His chapter on the Central Valley reports that four counties there alone grew more agriculture produce than 43 states. The chapter on California South looked at the growth of the Farm Workers union and fringe religions.

Paradise Lost, the last chapter, has an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault that makes the 1906 earthquake look like a wind ripple on a puddle. This new quake triggers quakes all over the southland. The story line of what happens when the Oroville Dam splits open and unleashes a 100’ tall wall of water down the Sacramento River, through the delta and out the Golden Gate makes the whole book worth reading. What the “new” California looks like after the dust settles defies description.

Yes, the book is 40 years old, and the state has more people, more industry, and more too loose. Readers just mentally multiply all the statistics to today’s realities. The book states, “It will never be possible to determine the full extent of the loss.” In human terms this quake kills three quarters of the states residents, then a figure of 15 million dead. And it’s not just people who are gone. Things that make our culture like art and architecture and educational institutions disappear in the blink of an eye. The mountains remain but lowlands; coastal areas and valleys are underwater.

A poignant image at the end of the book was a pilot flying and observing large flocks of swallows circling over the Pacific until, exhausted, the fell into the waves. It was March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, when the swallows returned to the San Juan Capistrano Mission.

“The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California” is an interesting history and “what if” lesson and a serious look at what a major quake would do to the state and we’re overdue for one. It’s scary. To find a copy try the library, a thrift or used book store, or go to

One Comment

  1. Jonah Raskin August 7, 2019

    Thanks for the information about the book. In a similar vein there is Raymond Dasmann’s “Destruction of California” published in 1965. Does anyone these days write about the end of California as we know it? Or are all the books and articles about how wonderful the Golden State is?

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