Fool’s Paradise: A Carey McWilliams Reader

A collection from one of the twentieth century's great activist journalists

“It suddenly occurred to me that, in all the world, there neither was nor would ever be another place like this City of the Angels. Here the American people were erupting, like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me: a ringside seat at the circus.”—Carey McWilliams, in Southern California Country

Carey McWilliams (1905-1980)—lawyer, activist, historian, and editor of The Nation for two decades—wrote the history of California as no one else could, or would. Alternately scathing, amusing, and disturbing, his sharp and literate accounts shatter the myths meant to obscure the real workings of the state, revealing always the relationship between the exploited and those who would exploit them.

Readers will find that McWilliams’s writing on history and the issues of his day is still relevant—in fact, it is the basis for the field that we now call California studies. His painstakingly researched accounts on topics ranging from racism to the intricacies of commerce, from farm labor to the cults of California, have opened the door for generations of writers and thinkers.


“McWilliams was one of the most politically aware and influential writers of his day, exposing the plight of the California migrant farmworker, speaking out against the interning of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and condemning the McCarthy witch-hunts of the Cold War period.”—Rutgers Focus (magazine)

“If there was a march, [McWilliams] marched; a committee or panel, he served; a pamphlet to be written, he wrote; a witness needed, he testified.”—John Gregory Dunne

“If John Steinbeck was a novelist seeking documentation, Carey McWilliams was a documentary journalist seeking the moral and imaginative intensity of art.”—Kevin Starr

About the Editor

Wilson Carey McWilliams, whose foreword includes commentary on his father’s life and politics, has been professor of political science at Rutgers University since 1970. His books include The Idea of Fraternity in America; The Politics of Disappointment: American Elections, 1976-94; and Beyond the Politics of Disappointment?: American Elections, 1980-1998.
Geographer and environmental historian Gray Brechin is the author of several books, including Farewell Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream (with Robert Dawson) and the recent Imperial San Francisco.