You, Too, Can Become a California Saint

Rule Number One: Don’t Bother Being a Nice Guy

Let’s say your New Year’s resolution is to be not just a better Californian, but a truly great one. You seek to be a secular California saint, so revered that people put your name on parks and squares and schools. What should be your path?

As it happens, three of the best books I read last year were biographies of such secular California saints—the bestselling socialist adventurer-writer Jack London (1876-1916); the championship-winning UCLA basketball coach John Wooden (1910-2010); and the farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), whose birthday is a California …

L.A., Where the World Convalesces

Today, It’s Chinese Health Tourists. A Century Ago, It Was American Consumptives Coming for the Sunshine.

The historical record is full of such stories: He moved to Los Angeles “for health reasons.” She relocated to Southern California “for her health.” Booster rhymes of the late 19th …

Are Californians Big Losers?

From the Gold Rush to Marriage Equality, This State’s Success Stories Have Always Followed Spectacular Failures

How do you win in California? Lose big first.

That’s a very old bit of wisdom in a state founded by people who abandoned their homes and families to move here …

When California Was Waterlogged

The 1862 Floods That Ravaged the West Were Just As Scary As the Drought That Plagues Us Today

Frenzied, the people fled to higher ground along the far bank, saving little more than the soaked clothes slung over their bodies. Some of the last to escape had to …

Kill the Fourth-Grade Mission Report

But Give California’s Kids a New Assignment: The Histories of Our 33 Public Universities

My mission was San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and I’ll never forget it.

I was barely 10 years old when I wrote my school report on that 18th-century Central Coast …

The Rise and Fall of the Gum Tree

How California Came to Love—and then Disown—Eucalyptus

Robinson Jeffers, a poet commemorated as an environmentalist, published a sonnet in 1916 that now seems eco-heretical. In 14 carefully rhymed lines, the laureate of Carmel offered praise to eucalyptus:

Thankful, …