Nonfiction Picks: The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Flea

Alta's Fall nonfiction selections feature four true stories about dreamers and schemers — and a musician named Flea.

Clockwise from top left: Barry Siegel, A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, Flea, and Susan Straight
Clockwise from top left: Barry Siegel, A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, Flea, and Susan Straight



By Barry Siegel
University of California Press, 272 pages, $29.95

Dreamers and Schemers: How an Improbable Bid for the 1932 Olympics Transformed Los Angeles from Dusty Outpost to Global Metropolis offers a dual history of the 1932 Summer Olympics and the rise of Los Angeles in the 1920s, and it is at its best when those narratives coincide. Meticulously researched, the book chronicles real estate magnate Billy Garland’s campaign to win the Games for a city that barely registered on the international map. Barry Siegel writes well, but he leaves us wanting more stories about Garland and his city and less dutiful documentation. Still, Siegel’s tone poem to his hometown brings to life an improbable sports spectacular in a city on the cusp.

Miriam Pawel



By Susan Straight
Catapult, 384 pages, $26

Susan Straight’s In the Country of Women is an ancestral chronicle, a personal odyssey, and a love letter to the author’s three adult daughters. Straight, who is white, married her high school sweetheart, an African American basketball player, and settled in her hometown of Riverside, California. She describes a “country of women” with “maps and threads of kin some people find hard to believe.” People with roots in Africa, Switzerland, Canada, and the American Midwest converged in Southern California to pursue their aspirations. Straight’s mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, is the warm heart of this narrative. Straight’s family inheritance includes centuries of pain but also love. “We are true California,” she writes. “True America.”

—Heather Scott Partington



By A.K. Sandoval-Strausz
Basic Books, 416 pages, $32

Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City describes how Latinx families built vibrant urban communities from postwar decline. Government subsidies, war-based investment, and European immigration made American cities boom during the early postwar years. But by the 1970s, economic decline and fear of integration emptied many white neighborhoods. A.K. Sandoval-Strausz argues that Latinx immigrants saved crumbling neighborhoods to rebuild social, political, and economic infrastructures. The book gestures toward the ongoing crisis of gentrification by demonstrating how white families—who once fled racial diversity—are slowly displacing Latinx and immigrant families who rebuilt the American city.

—Juan De Lara



By Flea
Grand Central Publishing, 400 pages, $29

Before Acid for the Children, Flea’s voice might have been described as the funk-punk bass slap driving the Gen X soundtrack. Here, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist introduces us to another register—that of Michael Balzary (his pre-Flea name), an Australian-born scamp raised on chaos, jazz, and Los Angeles. The memoir time-jumps through a Hollywood adolescence as the future rock star plays basketball and trumpet, performs with bands, and bonds with Anthony Kiedis in “an intimacy born of the hustle.” If you’re looking for a rise-to-fame chronicle, this isn’t it. Instead, Acid for the Children is the raucous tale of a misfit who does all the drugs and learns that “people living outside society need a sound to believe in.”

—Chris Daley

Heather Scott Partington is a writer, teacher, and book critic.
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