Reading List


A selection of recommended titles on histories, prevailing conditions, and philosophies concerning our natural world locally in the Los Angeles Basin, regionally, and globally.



Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Marc Reisner (Penguin Press, 1993)

The definitive history of water resources in the American West, and an illuminating lesson in the political economy of limited resources anywhere. A stunning work of history and investigative journalism that tells the story of conflicts over water policy in the West and the resulting damage to the land, wildlife and Indians. PBS offers a companion video series. Also by the author: A Dangerous Place

Conservation For Cities: How to Plan and Build Natural Infrastructure

Robert McDonald (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2015)

Review of relevant priorities and potential for natural infrastructure.

The Control of Nature

John McPhee (New York: The Noonday Press / Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1989)

Especially for the chapter "Los Angeles Against the Mountains." The book examines in detail the strategies and tactics through which people attempt to control their natural surroundings. pg. 13: “Whenever you try to control nature, you've got one strike against you." Also by the author: Annals of the Former World

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacobs (Vintage Books, reissue, 1992)

Originally published in 1961, Jacobs's small masterpiece is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities. It is sensible, knowledgeable, readable, indispensable.

Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster

Mike Davis (New York: Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt and Company, 1998)

A controversial history of natural and man-made disasters in Los Angeles. Chapter 2, "How Eden Lost its Garden," examines the lost opportunities of various environmental conservation proposals including Olmsted & Bartholomew's 1930 plan for the Los Angeles River. Also by the author: City of Quartz

Eden By Design: The 1930's Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region

Greg Hise, William Deverall, and Laurie Olin. (University of California Press, 2000)

The book examines the reasons the plan was commissioned then ignored, and discusses the future of urban public space. It reproduces the original plan and places it in its historic context. The drawings can be downloaded in color from University of California Press.

The Great Thirst: Californians and Water, A Revised History

Norris Hundley, Jr. (University of California Press, 2001)

A complete history of Californians and water. An unbiased depiction of the complex history, water policies, competing interests, and future challenges that have and will come to shape California.

How to Save a River: A Handbook for Citizen Action

David M. Bolling (Island Press, 1994)

Presents numerous examples of successful river saving efforts across the country and lays out the general principles of organizing and action.

The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death and Possible Rebirth

Blake Gumprecht (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999)

Begun as a masters thesis in geography at the UCLA. The author’s primary interest is the river’s past and those sections dealing with history are the books strongest.

The Making of Urban America

John Repps (Princeton University Press, 1992)

A lavishly illustrated and exhaustively researched document on the history of city planning in the United States.

Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region

Olmsted Brothers & Bartholomew (Los Angeles: Citizens Committee on Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches, 1930)

The original open space proposal for Los Angeles County, recommending the creation of parkways and greenbelts along the river corridors, on the reference shelves at the Los Angeles Public Library.

The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles

William B. Fulton (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)

Covers the history and politics of land use planning and water issues in Los Angeles and makes a case for change.

Restoring Streams in Cities: A Guide for Planners, Policymakers, and Citizens

Ann L. Riley (Island Press, 1998)

A history of urban stream management and restoration and guidance on project implementation for citizen groups.

Rio LA: Tales from the Los Angeles River

Patt Morrison (Angel City Press, 2001)

The LA Times columnist and essayist teamed with photographer Mark Lamonica to present the river, its history and the culture that evolved around it in a colorful and entertaining book.

Southern California: An Island on the Land

Carey Mc Williams (Gibbs Smith, 1994)

Originally published in 1946, this great social-historian describes the formations of Southern California from the "bottom up". The book overall is a must read. Also by the author: California the Great Exception

[NEW] Water and los angeles: a tale of three rivers, 1900-1941

William Deverell & Tom Sitton (University of California Press, 2018)

Los Angeles rose to significance in the first half of the twentieth century by way of its complex relationship to three rivers: the Los Angeles, the Owens, and the Colorado. This book explores these three rivers and the challenges and opportunities they presented to those who would come to make Los Angeles a global power.

Water and the California Dream: Choices for the New Millennium

David Carle (Sierra Club Books, 2003)

Shows how imported water has shaped the pattern of population growth in the state, and argues that it is possible to improve both our damaged environment and our quality of life if Californians will accept limited water supplies as a fact of life. Also by the author: Drowning the Dream

William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

Catherine Mulholland (University of California Press, 2000)

The life and times of William Mulholland as told by his daughter.