Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush

Article excerpt

Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush. Edited by Ram6n A. Gutierrez and Richard J. Orsi. [California History Sesquicentennial Series. Vol. 1.] (Berkeley: University of California Press. Published in association with the California Historical Society. 1998. Pp. xi, 396. $60.00 cloth; $27.50 paper.)

Contested Eden is the first of four volumes to be published as the California History Sesquicentennial Series in association with the California Historical Society. Richard J. Orsi is the series editor, with a different coeditor assisting on each of the four volumes. These works deal with a variety of approaches to understanding the complexity, richness, and implications of early California. They cover the area's natural history and remarkable resources, the precolonial experience of the aboriginal population, the Hispanic era of Spanish and Mexican colonization, and the early years after California's entry into the United States.

This book, a collection of articles authored by individual scholars, begins with a thoughtful preface which articulates the complexities of recent California history as a context for appreciating the importance of the state's equally complex natural and historical roots. Twelve chapters deal with a variety of approaches to California's natural and human history. A final section, virtually a visual thirteenth chapter, offers a remarkable collection of fourteen original paintings, sketches, maps, and photographs, all but one in color, depicting representative art, people, places, flora, and fauna of early California. This is in addition to the photographs, illustrations, and maps which complement the text throughout the book. Each article or chapter is followed immediately by notes which cite the authors' primary and secondary sources. The volume concludes with a helpful index. With the exception of a rare typographical error ("for" instead of "far, p. 245) and the unfortunate typographical or conceptual confusion between Erasmus and Erastianism (p. 155), the articles are well written and carefully edited. …