Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Multicultural Review

Multicultural Review ran a short and favorable notice on American Prophet in their April issue. Dennis E. Showalter of Colorado College describes Carey McWilliams as "one of America's major public intellectuals, whose roots in the American cultural and historic experience enabled him to sidestep involvement with the ideology and policy of the Soviet Union that took so many of his liberal contemporaries down dead ends." The last sentence is the least expected: "Richardson's strong case for McWilliams's legacy of public involvement as a counterweight to the solipistic theorizing of today's academic Left is controversial but defensible and merits careful consideration."


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Citric McWilliams

Heard from Gustavo Arellano, a reporter at OC Weekly, a few days ago. He's writing a piece on McWilliams and the 1936 citrus worker strike in Orange County. It was a turning point for McWilliams, who saw firsthand how the deck was stacked against the workers. Looking forward to Gustavo's piece.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Go SF State!

Got a little love from the public affairs office at San Francisco State University. Matt Itel wrote a piece for Campus Memo, an online newsletter for the campus community. Mostly we talked about Carey McWilliams and American Prophet. Then they put the link on the university's home page:

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Bonnie Cashin Lecture

I'm working hard on the Bonnie Cashin lecture, which I'll deliver at UCLA on June 15. I'm trying to answer a basic question. If Kevin Starr is right that Carey McWilliams is "the single finest nonfiction writer on California--ever," how come so few Californians know about him? Even after thinking about McWilliams and his work for years, I haven't quite figured that out, so I'm curious about where that question will take me.

Here's a link with lecture info:


From Left Field

Had a chat yesterday with Barry Gordon on "From Left Field" on KCAA in Los Angeles. Carol Pott and I spoke about PoliPointPress and The Blue Pages: A Directory of Companies Rated by Their Politics and Practices. Carol has been working hard and intelligently on the promotion front, and the book is getting a great reception. It shows how much and to which political party hundreds of corporations contribute their money. Which means that consumers can use the directory to support companies that share their values. As Norman Solomon puts it, let the seller beware.

For those of you taking notes, Barry Gordon used to be president of the Screen Actors Guild--longest tenure of any president, it turns out, one year longer than Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston--and now plays the rabbi on Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

L.A. Times Review

The Los Angeles Times removed its review of American Prophet from its website, so I removed the link from this page. Please contact me at if you'd like an electronic version of that review.


Bush Style vs. McWilliams Style

One of my favorite books on writing style is Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner's Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose. Thomas and Turner discuss and contrast various styles, including plain style, which they describe as follows.

"Plain style is communal, its model scene a congregation in which speakers reaffirm for each other common truths that are the property of all. In the theology behind plain style, truth is always simple, and it is a common human possession. Individual revisions of this communal possession distort and dilute it. The wisdom of children can be the wisdom of adults, because knowing truth requires no special experience and no critical analysis. Sophisticated thought and conceptual refinement pervert truth. Any language that reaches beyond the simplest level is suspicious as the probable symptom of such a perversion" (76-77).

For my money, this is the best description of President Bush's conception of the truth. Plain style is very popular in Texas, where intellectuals are defined as people "educated beyond their intelligence." I heard Henry Hyde describe some academics that way when they informed his committee that it was torturing the Constitution during the Clinton impeachment.

Carey McWilliams's style was more like what Thomas and Turner call classic style. For the classic stylist, common wisdom is often self-serving. Without critical testing, such common wisdom can become "an anthology of a community's complacent errors." Classic style remedies that deficiency by requiring critical analysis. "In classic style, truth is available to all who are willing to work to achieve it, but truth is certainly not commonly possessed by all and is no one's birthright. In the classic view, truth is the possession of individuals who have validated common wisdom; for them, truth has been achieved, and such achievement requires both experience and a critical intelligence beyond the range of babes" (77).

In short, classic style values simplicity but doesn't reject nuance or sophistication on principle. Today's headlines suggest we could use more classic style and less plain style in American politics.