In its natural condition the Sacramento Valley was a flood-ravaged region where an inland sea a hundred miles long regularly formed during the rainy season, to drain slowly away by the summer months. Today the Valley is marvelously productive, with a great capital city at its center, but only after a seventy-year struggle to devise and build an intricate thousand miles of levees and drains. Robert Kelley sets that battle within the encompassing national political culture, which produced, through the Republican and Democratic parties, widely diverging ideas about how best to reclaim the Valley from flood. He draws on approaches developed in the field of policy analysis to examine the relationship between American political culture and environmental policy-making. We find that the prolonged controversy over the Sacramento Valley illuminates American decision-making, then and now.
Robert Kelley is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the author of The Shaping of the American Past and several other highly esteemed books.
"Of late historians have become increasingly interested in the vast re-ordering of the environment involved in the creation of America. Nowhere was this more true than in the Sacramento Valley where re-ordering edged into folly. Battling the Inland Sea is a powerful evocation of the losses and gains involved in battling the mighty Sacramento River. But more than this, it is an exploration of the national will as it sought to rearrange nature herself with such mixed results. Here is history dealing with the most elemental forces of land, water and engineering as they are shaped by public policy. Here is the profound drama of value and symbol which occurs when Americans come into conflict with forces over which they can exercise, as Robert Kelley shows, only the most transitory and pyrrhic victories."—Kevin Starr, author of the Americans and the California Dream
"Robert Kelley's research into the origins of California's first great flood control system has already helped to inform the shaping of the state's water laws. Now he opens up the benefits of that work for the average reader in a wonderfully clear and engaging story that manages, among other things, to show that water development in the United States hasn't been just a matter of engineering but a cultural and intellectual achievement as well."—William Kahrl, author of Water and Power
"A vividly written narrative of one of the major transformations of the physical world we inhabit. Robert Kelley draws upon his rich store of learning and insight to set the struggles over the Sacramento Valley into a broad context. His book contains important lessons for those who would understand the American economy, environment, politics, or culture."—Daniel W. Howe, author of The Political Culture of the American Whigs