Five Fires: Race, Catastrophe, and the Shaping of California

Addison Wesley, 1996

In this wholly original study, Wyatt uses the metaphor of fire to tell the story of California. Wyatt focuses on this catastrophic history of his native state on five events of social combustion and tangible fire that swept through California, altering its physical and political landscape and the way both were represented in art and literature. Wyatt begins with the accidental importation and spread of the wild oat in the 1770s, a process that had its human parallel in the Spanish invaders. He then explores the impact of four other significant events: the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the post-World War II defense-industry boom, and the fire of race that erupted in Watts in 1965. From the the journals of a Gold Camp mineress to Amy Tan's novels, from Ansel Adams's photography to Roman Polanski's films, Wyatt brings into dialogue a wide range of powerful, moving voices.