Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Big Daddy

Just finished reading Bill Boyarsky's Big Daddy: Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics. A man of huge appetites--for power, food, drink, and women--Unruh shaped a political culture that was rough around the edges but got a lot of work done for the people of California.

As an AP and LA Times reporter, Boyarsky covered Unruh in Sacramento and brings a valuable, first-person perspective to the story. He resisted the temptation to produce a tome; this nifty little book (265 pages) can be read in a few sittings. As a significant political figure in a fascinating era, Unruh could support a longer work, but I like Boyarsky's decision to keep it relatively brief and moving quickly.

Boyarsky's portrait jibes well with a growing list of books on California politicians of that period. These include John Jacobs's bio of Phil Burton, Lou Cannon on Ronald Reagan, James Richardson on Willie Brown, and Ethan Rarick on Pat Brown. Naomi Schneider at UC Press has edited almost all of these books. We've never met, but my hat is off to her. She deserves a great deal of credit for sponsoring an impressive collective portrait of mid-century California politics.

This photograph doesn't feature Unruh very well--that's him falling out of the right frame--but it's the best photo I could find that shows Unruh, Brown, and Burton together. That's Bobby Kennedy with his back to us.


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