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Bungalow Life

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Atlantic literary editor Benjamin Schwarz reviews "Americans and the California Dream," Kevin Starr’s 8th volume on the history of California. This most recent book largely looks at California from the Second World War to the mid-1960s. And what a time it was! The public high school system was envied, the wages were high, and public roads and facilities were gleaming and pristine. "...California, as he’s argued in earlier volumes, promised “the highest possible life for the middle classes.” It wasn’t a paradise for world-beaters; rather, it offered “a better place for ordinary people. That place always meant “an improved and more affordable domestic life”: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space, such as the ubiquitous California bungalow (“the closest thing to a democratic art that has ever been produced,” as the architectural historians David Gebhard and Robert Winter have written) and a lush backyard—the stage, that is, for “family life in a sunny climate." And there's more: "For nearly a century, California offered ordinary people better lives than they could lead perhaps anywhere else in the world." Today's California wouldn't be recognized by that early group, he adds. [The Atlantic]