3 out of 4 stars
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[Note: This review is based on the Kindle edition of the book. The publisher has reported that the formatting issues are not present in the print edition of the book.]
The great state of California is the third-largest state in the US, and its storied past is just as big and bold as its geography. Ronald Genini’s California: On the Edge of American History takes on the Herculean task of putting together a comprehensive history of the state, from prehistory to the present and every era, war, and conquest in between.
I have to start off by saying that the copy I received of this book is absolutely riddled with formatting errors. Words in the middle of the page were hyphenated and had extra spaces within them. The margins would occasionally balloon out to take up half the page, leaving the text running down a skinny column on one side. There were random line breaks and page breaks, missing or poorly-formatted pictures, captions that couldn’t decide if they wanted to be uppercase or lowercase… in short, it was an absolute mess. Now, this is not necessarily the author’s fault, but it definitely should have been corrected by someone on his publishing team.
Setting that gripe aside, though, I found that there was a lot to like about this book. Genini writes in a very light and easy tone – not exactly conversational, but still extremely readable. He’s obviously done an incredible amount of research, since the chapters are full to bursting with interesting anecdotes, primary sources, and enough detail to make any history buff giddy.
Those details are delivered in a very dense package. Not ‘dense’ as in hard to understand, but ‘dense’ as in extraordinarily efficient at packing information down into the smallest possible word count. After all, Genini had to fit centuries of history into just 600 pages (only 500 if you don’t count the footnotes and references). In a word, this book is chewy – in a good way.
This is the kind of book that will appeal to very specific readers. It’s a comprehensive history, which means it’s kind of an aerial flyby – Google Earth, not Google Street View. If you enjoy that top-level approach to history, by all means pick this book up. If you prefer more detailed explorations of smaller topics, you may be disappointed.
In addition, this is not the kind of book for visual learners. I often found myself wishing for a map, a timeline – anything to help me make sense of the streams of dates and locations. This comes down to personal preference, of course, and isn’t a mark against the book. If you’re good at visualizing and parsing stuff like this, you should be just fine.
I struggled for a while with how to rate this book. My gut feeling is to take away two stars because the formatting was just murder on the eyes, but again, that’s not necessarily the author’s fault. Instead, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and rate the book 3 out of 4 stars, with the caveat that you should probably make sure you’re getting a clean copy when you purchase it. This book may not appeal to everyone, but hardcore history buffs will surely be thrilled.
California: On the Edge of American History
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