Books

The Books On Our Nightstand

Take a peek onto the nightstands of Alta's editors—and maybe get a few ideas for your own bedside table reading material. 

THE STATE OF WATER: UNDERSTANDING CALIFORNIA’S MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE

By Obi Kaufmann
Heyday, 144 pages, $20

It’s no surprise that Obi Kaufmann’s first book, The California Field Atlas, was a bestseller. Filled with useful facts and Kaufmann’s lovingly detailed paintings of wildlife, it’s a handsome, compact tribute to the state’s natural wonders. Now Kaufmann is back with The State of Water, another art-rich book, this one focusing on a precious resource whose fate will determine California’s future. Kaufmann, who lives in Oakland, has long been an avid backpacker and is familiar with California’s varied ecosystems. In this new work, he delves into the state’s contentious history of water usage and gives readers an overview of its vast and complex water infrastructure. He makes the case that conservation is essential for a state that is growing beyond its means.

NATURAL RIVALS: JOHN MUIR, GIFFORD PINCHOT, AND THE CREATION OF AMERICA’S WILDERNESS

By John Clayton
Pegasus Books, 336 pages, $28

John Muir is rightfully recognized as the Father of the National Parks. Not as renowned is Gifford Pinchot, who was the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. In his latest book, Montana author John Clayton examines the men’s differing philosophies: raised in Scotland, in poverty, Muir prized individualism; born wealthy, in Connecticut, Pinchot placed his faith in institutions. Clayton outlines the emerging rivalry of these men who once camped together in Montana, showing how their conflicting ideologies played out at a time when the National Park Service—an agency we often take for granted—had yet to be born.

THE CODE: SILICON VALLEY AND THE REMAKING OF AMERICA

By Margaret O’Mara
Penguin Press, 512 pages, $30

As someone who worked in the Clinton White House, Margaret O’Mara had a close-up view of government’s involvement in Silicon Valley during that era. Now a history professor at the University of Washington, O’Mara has written a big-picture survey of the Valley. She covers the region’s success stories, profiling titans of industry and influential venture capitalists. She also sheds light on figures whose stories have been ignored. The book isn’t a simple, rosy history: O’Mara weighs in on our troubled present. “The boy wonders of the Valley,” she notes, “had built extraordinary thinking machines without reckoning with how truly disruptive they might become.”

WE ARE LA COCINA: RECIPES IN PURSUIT OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

By Caleb Zigas and Leticia Landa
Chronicle Books, 288 pages, $30

Much as many of us appreciate restaurant food from other countries, it’s often easy to overlook the people behind the meals. We Are La Cocina therefore comes as a welcome addition to the cookbook genre. The chefs featured inside received support from La Cocina, a nonprofit incubator kitchen in San Francisco that helps low-income immigrants, women, and people of color. We hear their stories: Maria Castillo, for one, lived in a shelter for survivors of domestic violence with her son before opening her snack business, Botanas Felicitas. And we’re treated to their recipes: Nite Yun, owner of Nyum Bai, keeps her Cambodian roots alive by sharing such dishes as kuy teav Phnom Penh (noodle soup) and neorm sach moan (chicken salad). The book is a refreshing celebration of our country’s diversity.