9 photographs, 2 maps
2022 Oregon Book Award Finalist
Aaron Gilbreath uses his keen eye and environmental consciousness, historical records, and the occasional imaginative flight to give us an invaluable portrait of an overlooked place.—Thomas Swick, author of A Way to See the World
A vivid journey through California’s vast rural interior, The Heart of California weaves the story of historian Frank Latta’s forgotten 1938 boat trip from Bakersfield to San Francisco with Aaron Gilbreath’s trip retracing Latta’s route by car during the 2014 drought. Latta embarked on his journey to publicize the need for dams and levees to improve flood control. Gilbreath made his own trip to profile Latta and the productive agricultural world that damming has created in the San Joaquin Valley, to describe the region’s nearly lost indigenous culture and ecosystems, and to bring this complex yet largely ignored landscape to life.
The Valley is home to some of California’s fastest growing cities and, by some estimates, produces 25 percent of America’s food. The Valley feeds too many people, and is too unique, to be ignored. To understand California, you have to understand the Valley.
Mixing travel writing, historical recreations, western history, natural history, and first-person reportage, The Heart of California is a road-trip narrative about this fascinating region and its most important early documentarian.