Issue: Summer 2021

Summer Reading

By Nyla Arslanian

Los Angeles has developed one of the most successful historic preservation programs in the nation. Across the city, historic preservation is now transforming Los Angeles, while also pointing the way for other cities to use preservation to revitalize their neighborhoods and build community. Preserving Los Angeles: How Historic Places Can Transform America's Cities, written by Ken Bernstein—who oversees Los Angeles’s Office of Historic Resources—tells how historic preservation has revived neighborhoods, created a Downtown renaissance, and guided the future of the city. With more than 300 full-color images, Preserving Los Angeles is an authoritative chronicle of urban transformation, a guide for citizens and urban practitioners alike who hope to preserve the unique culture of their own cities.

In this captivating portrait of the notorious Jewish gangster who ascended from impoverished beginnings to the glittering Las Vegas strip,  author Michael Shnayerson sets out not to absolve Bugsy Siegel but rather to understand him in all his complexity.  In a brief life, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (1906–1947) rose from desperate poverty to a kingdom of his own making in Las Vegas. Through the 1920s, 1930s, and most of the 1940s, Bugsy Siegel and his longtime partner in crime Meyer Lansky engaged in innumerable acts of violence. As World War II ended, Siegel saw the potential for a huge, elegant casino resort in the sands of Las Vegas. Jewish gangsters built nearly all the Vegas casinos that followed. Then, one by one, they disappeared. Siegel’s story laces through a larger, generational story of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the early- to mid-twentieth century.

George Chakiris famously played the angry gang leader Bernardo in the film version of West Side Story (1961), for which he won an Oscar for best supporting actor.  “I know exactly where my gratitude belongs,” Chakiris writes, “and I still marvel at how, unbeknownst to me at the time, the joyful path of my life was paved one night in 1949 when Jerome Robbins sat Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents down in his apartment and announced, ‘I have an idea.’" Penned by Chakiris with Lindsay Harrison, My West Side Story, is an insider's look at how this theatrical and cinematic landmark evolved from a conversation.

In Chris Hillman’s memoir Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond he takes readers behind the curtain of his quintessentially Southern California musical journey. Arguably the primary architect of what came to be known as country rock, after playing the Southern California folk and bluegrass circuit, Hillman joined David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and Michael Clark as an original member of The Byrds. He went on to partner with Gram Parsons to launch The Flying Burrito Brothers. Hillman then embarked on a prolific recording career as a member of Stephen Stills' Manassas, as a solo artist; and in a trio with his fellow former Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark. In the 1980s, Hillman launched a successful country career when he formed The Desert Rose Band which scored eight Top 10 country hits. He’s been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and has since released a number of solo albums including Bidin' My Time, produced by Tom Petty. 

From surf music to hot-rod records to the sunny pop of the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Byrds, and the Mama’s & the Papa’s, Joel Selwin’s Hollywood Eden captures the fresh blossom of a young generation who came together in the epic spring of the 1960s to invent the myth of the California Paradise. Central to the story is a group of sun-kissed teens from the University High School class of 1959 that included Jan & Dean, Nancy Sinatra, and future members of the Beach Boys who came of age in Los Angeles at the dawn of a new golden era. What began as a light-hearted frolic under sunny skies ended up crashing down to earth just a few short but action-packed years later. A rock ’n’ roll opera loaded with violence, deceit, intrigue, low comedy, and high drama, it’s the story of a group of young artists and musicians who bumped heads, crashed cars, and ultimately flew too close to the sun.