70 books like The Browns of California

By Miriam Pawel,

Here are 70 books that The Browns of California fans have personally recommended if you like The Browns of California. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of In the Country of Women

William F. Deverell Author Of Kathy Fiscus: A Tragedy That Transfixed the Nation

From my list on family in California.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the American West and a professor at the University of Southern California. I also direct the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. I love the way very smart and ambitious family histories illuminate the fascinating (or sometimes mundane) lives of people in the past and, at the same time, use those stories to help us understand bigger-picture issues, eras, and all the turbulence of American life. That little-girl-in-the-well book I wrote is the first time I’ve attempted family history. It was so hard to try to get it right but, at the same time, exhilarating to think that maybe I did.

William's book list on family in California

William F. Deverell Why did William love this book?

Novelist as genealogist, genealogist as novelist. A fiercely loyal portrait of a range of amazing women whose lives feel as if they were fictional, but they were and are not. A tender portrait of several generations of smart and loving mothers, wives, and daughters whose California is not the place of wealth and glamor but rather of making do, getting by, and loving your people and landscapes.

By Susan Straight,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Country of Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of NPR's Best Books of the Year

“Straight’s memoir is a lyric social history of her multiracial clan in Riverside that explores the bonds of love and survival that bind them, with a particular emphasis on the women’s stories . . . The aftereffect of all these disparate stories juxtaposed in a single epic is remarkable. Its resonance lingers for days after reading.” —San Francisco Chronicle

In the Country of Women is a valuable social history and a personal narrative that reads like a love song to America and indomitable women. In inland Southern California, near the desert and…


Book cover of Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today

Dan Morain Author Of Kamala's Way: An American Life

From my list on California-themed stories that matter.

Why am I passionate about this?

Visiting journalists regularly misinterpret California. Outside politicians twist it into bizarre caricatures. I know because I have worked as a journalist in all parts of the state. I covered crime for the LA Herald Examiner, spent 27 years at the LA Times, was a columnist and editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee and, finally, was senior editor of the nonprofit news organization, CalMatters. I’ve covered governors, wildfires, a major earthquake, politics, mass incarceration, mass shootings, an execution, and all manner of policy. There are many great nonfiction books about California, including Jim Newton’s biographies of Earl Warren and Jerry Brown, Randy Shilts’s The Mayor of Castro Street, and Gladwin Hill’s Dancing Bear.

Dan's book list on California-themed stories that matter

Dan Morain Why did Dan love this book?

Craig McNamara has written a beautiful memoir about his complex father and the ugly war that split our country in the 1960s and beyond, his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and a rich and impactful life as a walnut farmer outside the California town of Winters. I’ve been to his farm and have gotten to know Craig bit. His story is authentic and from the heart. His anecdote about the chair his father occupied is powerful. I was too young to be drafted, but grew up in the Bay Area and was very much affected by the tumultuous times. Craig McNamara offers a unique perspective and one well worth reading

By Craig McNamara,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Because Our Fathers Lied as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This unforgettable father and son story confronts the legacy of the Vietnam War across two generations; “an important book that should be read by every American” (Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July).

Craig McNamara came of age in the political tumult and upheaval of the late 60s. While Craig McNamara would grow up to take part in anti-war demonstrations, his father, Robert McNamara, served as John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense and the architect of the Vietnam War. This searching and revealing memoir offers an intimate picture of one father and son at…


Book cover of The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California

Dan Morain Author Of Kamala's Way: An American Life

From my list on California-themed stories that matter.

Why am I passionate about this?

Visiting journalists regularly misinterpret California. Outside politicians twist it into bizarre caricatures. I know because I have worked as a journalist in all parts of the state. I covered crime for the LA Herald Examiner, spent 27 years at the LA Times, was a columnist and editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee and, finally, was senior editor of the nonprofit news organization, CalMatters. I’ve covered governors, wildfires, a major earthquake, politics, mass incarceration, mass shootings, an execution, and all manner of policy. There are many great nonfiction books about California, including Jim Newton’s biographies of Earl Warren and Jerry Brown, Randy Shilts’s The Mayor of Castro Street, and Gladwin Hill’s Dancing Bear.

Dan's book list on California-themed stories that matter

Dan Morain Why did Dan love this book?

Mark Arax is a lovely writer who tells a riveting story about the place he knows best, California’s Central Valley. He describes the flawed giants who carved up California’s water for their benefit and the workers who toiled to make their dreams happen. Mark makes his hometown of Fresno and the rest of the Valley a compelling character in the drama. His book as essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand California. 

By Mark Arax,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dreamt Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A vivid, searching journey into California's capture of water and soil—the epic story of a people's defiance of nature and the wonders, and ruin, it has wrought

Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with California's relentless growth.

The Dreamt Land weaves reportage,…


Book cover of The Triumph of Nancy Reagan

Dan Morain Author Of Kamala's Way: An American Life

From my list on California-themed stories that matter.

Why am I passionate about this?

Visiting journalists regularly misinterpret California. Outside politicians twist it into bizarre caricatures. I know because I have worked as a journalist in all parts of the state. I covered crime for the LA Herald Examiner, spent 27 years at the LA Times, was a columnist and editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee and, finally, was senior editor of the nonprofit news organization, CalMatters. I’ve covered governors, wildfires, a major earthquake, politics, mass incarceration, mass shootings, an execution, and all manner of policy. There are many great nonfiction books about California, including Jim Newton’s biographies of Earl Warren and Jerry Brown, Randy Shilts’s The Mayor of Castro Street, and Gladwin Hill’s Dancing Bear.

Dan's book list on California-themed stories that matter

Dan Morain Why did Dan love this book?

Karen Tumulty has written the definitive biography of Nancy Reagan. Readers will come away with a far deeper appreciation of the woman who was President Reagan’s fiercest defender and who helped shape his life and political ascent. I was especially drawn to the book by the insights Karen Tumulty provides about the Sacramento during Reagan’s time as governor, and about the Reagan’s California years before and after the presidency. Karen Tumulty’s description of Nancy Reagan’s years after Ronald Reagan’s death is especially compelling.

By Karen Tumulty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Triumph of Nancy Reagan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive biography of the fiercely vigilant and politically astute First Lady who shaped one of the most consequential presidencies of the 20th century: Nancy Reagan.

The made-in-Hollywood marriage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan is more than a love story-it's the partnership that made him president. Of the pair, Nancy was the one with the sharper instincts about people, the superior radar for trouble, and the keen sense of how to secure his place in history. The only person in the world to whom Ronald Reagan felt truly close, Nancy understood how to foster his strengths and compensate for his…


Book cover of The Devil's Harvest: A Ruthless Killer, a Terrorized Community, and the Search for Justice in California's Central Valley

Dan Morain Author Of Kamala's Way: An American Life

From my list on California-themed stories that matter.

Why am I passionate about this?

Visiting journalists regularly misinterpret California. Outside politicians twist it into bizarre caricatures. I know because I have worked as a journalist in all parts of the state. I covered crime for the LA Herald Examiner, spent 27 years at the LA Times, was a columnist and editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee and, finally, was senior editor of the nonprofit news organization, CalMatters. I’ve covered governors, wildfires, a major earthquake, politics, mass incarceration, mass shootings, an execution, and all manner of policy. There are many great nonfiction books about California, including Jim Newton’s biographies of Earl Warren and Jerry Brown, Randy Shilts’s The Mayor of Castro Street, and Gladwin Hill’s Dancing Bear.

Dan's book list on California-themed stories that matter

Dan Morain Why did Dan love this book?

In The Devil’s Harvest, Jessica Garrison uses California’s Central Valley as an essential character in this fast-paced, thrilling, and chilling tale. Although she describes a prolific contract killer, Jessica Garrison has written much more than a meticulously researched true crime book. Readers will gain important insights into the nature of justice and California. 

By Jessica Garrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil's Harvest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This suspenseful true story of a drug cartel hitman who got away with murder after murder in California's Central Valley over three decades reveals how the criminal justice system fails our most vulnerable immigrant communities.

On the surface, fifty-eight-year-old Jose Martinez didn't seem evil or even that remarkable—just a regular neighbor, good with cars and devoted to his family. But in between taking his children to Disneyland and visiting his mom, Martinez was also one of the most skilled professional killers police had ever seen.

He tracked one victim to one of the wealthiest corners of America, a horse ranch…


Book cover of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

Chris Lukather Author Of Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

From my list on Southern California architecture history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been interested in art and architecture. I studied Fine Arts at CalArts. I’ve written three books on Mid-century home builders and designers, William Mellenthin, Jean Vandruff, and Robert Byrd, whose life and work in Southern California had gone mostly unnoticed during their lifetimes—with very little information written about them in the press. I spent three years on each book working with the families to uncover their lives and place in local history. This is information that would have otherwise been lost. When you research the life of one person in this profession, you inevitably learn about the life and work of others—some famous, some not. 

Chris' book list on Southern California architecture history

Chris Lukather Why did Chris love this book?

D.J. Waldie’s writing reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story. His short, deliberate style draws the reader in immediately. You are hooked.

He walks to work. He lives in his parent’s original tract home, part of a planned development built in the 1950s in Lakewood, CA. It was the first one on the west coast. Waldie observes his friends and neighbors, the neighborhood, and its unique place in Southern California history.

After my parent’s divorce, my father lived in Lakewood and Long Beach, so I spent a lot of time down there when I was a kid. Does anyone remember Buffums department store?

By D.J. Waldie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Holy Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its publication in 1996, Holy Land has become an American classic. In "quick, translucent prose" (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times) that is at once lyrical and unsentimental, D. J. Waldie recounts growing up in Lakewood, California, a prototypical post-World War II suburb. Laid out in 316 sections as carefully measured as a grid of tract houses, Holy Land is by turns touching, eerie, funny, and encyclopedic in its handling of what was gained and lost when thousands of blue-collar families were thrown together in the suburbs of the 1950s. An intensely realized and wholly original memoir about the way…


Book cover of On Gold Mountain: The 100-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family

William F. Deverell Author Of Kathy Fiscus: A Tragedy That Transfixed the Nation

From my list on family in California.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the American West and a professor at the University of Southern California. I also direct the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. I love the way very smart and ambitious family histories illuminate the fascinating (or sometimes mundane) lives of people in the past and, at the same time, use those stories to help us understand bigger-picture issues, eras, and all the turbulence of American life. That little-girl-in-the-well book I wrote is the first time I’ve attempted family history. It was so hard to try to get it right but, at the same time, exhilarating to think that maybe I did.

William's book list on family in California

William F. Deverell Why did William love this book?

Richly woven history of immigration, family, and the California Dream as refracted through Chinese newcomers and their Chinese American descendants. The author has two very powerful tools at her disposal – penetrating historical sensibility and a great novelist’s ear for language. Across time and space, family stories, and passed-down memories endure. They all come together in this wonderful book in which California alternates between background and foreground through both hope and disappointment.

By Lisa See,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Gold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Out of the stories heard in her childhood in Los Angeles's Chinatown and years of research, See has constructed this sweeping chronicle of her Chinese-American family, a work that takes in stories of racism and romance, entrepreneurial genius and domestic heartache, secret marriages and sibling rivalries, in a powerful history of two cultures meeting in a new world. 82 photos.


Book cover of Who Killed Jane Stanford?

William F. Deverell Author Of Kathy Fiscus: A Tragedy That Transfixed the Nation

From my list on family in California.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the American West and a professor at the University of Southern California. I also direct the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. I love the way very smart and ambitious family histories illuminate the fascinating (or sometimes mundane) lives of people in the past and, at the same time, use those stories to help us understand bigger-picture issues, eras, and all the turbulence of American life. That little-girl-in-the-well book I wrote is the first time I’ve attempted family history. It was so hard to try to get it right but, at the same time, exhilarating to think that maybe I did.

William's book list on family in California

William F. Deverell Why did William love this book?

A page-turned, a Gilded Age whodunit, and a case study in how to dig and dig and dig into the historical record. This Stanford professor’s brilliant expose of the Stanford family and the university two of them founded is at its best when it reveals two things: how the public and private worlds of the rich and powerful (then and now) are utterly at odds with one another, and just how strange those private realms could (and can) be. Oh, and a murderer revealed, if but for a moment.

By Richard White,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Who Killed Jane Stanford? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1885 Jane and Leland Stanford co-founded a university to honour their recently deceased young son. After her husband's death in 1893, Jane Stanford, a devoted spiritualist who expected the university to inculcate her values, steered Stanford into eccentricity and public controversy for more than a decade. In 1905 she was murdered in Hawaii, a victim, according to the Honolulu coroner's jury, of strychnine poisoning.

With her vast fortune the university's lifeline, the Stanford president and his allies quickly sought to foreclose challenges to her bequests by constructing a story of death by natural causes. The cover-up gained traction in…


Book cover of The Gay Place

Charles Robbins Author Of The Accomplice

From my list on political bosses.

Why am I passionate about this?

Political power has intrigued me since I read Macbeth and Machiavelli in high school – how to acquire it, wield it, and keep it, and how it seduces and ultimately corrupts. Political bosses fascinated me – Svengalis who built empires, often through charisma, populism, and ruthlessness. I began writing about politics as a newspaper reporter, then ran press shops for lawmakers and candidates, including a presidential campaign; co-wrote three nonfiction books with senators, including a former majority leader; then turned to writing fiction, a passion since boyhood, largely under the theme “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  

Charles' book list on political bosses

Charles Robbins Why did Charles love this book?

Brammer’s novel has resonated throughout my career, warning of almost inevitable disillusionment with a political powerhouse. Brammer had served as a top aide to Lyndon Johnson, on whom he based Arthur Fenstemaker, a star as bright as Penn Warren’s Willie Stark. The Gay Place spoke to me even more directly, focusing on minor politicos and their ambitions, frailties, and humanity. And the book drove home, through a pervading sadness, the anomie that rises from disillusionment. Brammer’s “Flea Circus” metaphor continues to amuse and bum me.

By Billy Lee Brammer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gay Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in Texas, The Gay Place consists of three interlocking novels, each with a different protagonist-a member of the state legislature, the state's junior senator, and the governor's press secretary. The governor himself, Arthur Fenstemaker, a master politician, infinitely canny and seductive, remains the dominant figure throughout.

Billy Lee Brammer-who served on Lyndon Johnson's staff-gives us here "the excitement of a political carnival: the sideshows, the freaks, and the ghoulish comedy atmosphere" (Saturday Review).

Originally published in 1961, The Gay Place is at once a cult classic and a major American novel.


Book cover of Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

Jason Emerson Author Of Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln

From my list on presidential children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an independent historian and journalist who has spent over 25 years studying Abraham Lincoln and his family. My fascination with the Great Emancipator began when I worked first as a student volunteer and then as a park ranger at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. As I writer who has always loved history, I decided I should start writing about history. I've authored or edited eight books (seven on Lincoln and his family) as well as numerous articles. My big break came when I discovered a cache of Mary Lincoln’s missing letters, written during her time in a sanitarium in 1875, which had been missing for nearly 100 years.

Jason's book list on presidential children

Jason Emerson Why did Jason love this book?

George W. Bush, even today, 14 years after leaving the presidency, is a controversial president. But as with all presidents, to understand their politics and policies you have to first understand their personality and character. That’s what I like about this book: Bruni seeks to explain and understand who Bush was as a man—a man who, although the son of a president, never seemed destined to lead a nation and the world and yet ultimately faced one of the greatest crises in US history. Bruni, a former New York Times reporter who covered Bush as presidential nominee and president, shows W.’s weaknesses and strengths, his somewhat surprising life journey of serious endeavors for an often less-than-serious man, and ultimately how the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed Bush’s entire outlook and demeanor, thrusting him into an unprecedented challenge that elevated the laid-back good-time guy to a serious and dedicated leader.…

By Frank Bruni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ambling Into History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush. As the principal New York Times reporter assigned to cover George W. Bush's presidential campaign from its earliest stages - and then as a White House correspondent - Frank Bruni has spent as much time around Bush over the last two years as any other reporter. In Ambling Into History, Bruni paints the most thorough, balanced, eloquent and lively portrait yet of a man in many ways ill-suited to the office he sought and won, focusing on small moments that often escaped the news media's notice. From the author's initial introduction to Bush…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in California, presidential biography, and Los Angeles?

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