Action Research Books

Social Justice, Environment and Livability books from MIT Press

Thinking Big

Posted by UEPI on June 23, 2008

Thinking Big: The Story of the Los Angeles Times, Its Publishers, and Their Influence on Southern California

Robert Gottlieb and Irene Wolt

1977, Island Press

Power – how it is created, how it has been and how it is being used – is at the heart of Thinking Big, the first book to tell the story of the Los Angeles Times and its critical role in the explosion of a small cattle town into the nation’s second-largest metropolis. Irene Wolt and Robert Gottlieb recount this absorbing saga of how the Chandler family built one of the largest publishing empires on earth from the beginning of the Los Angeles Times in 1881 to its present gigantic conglomerate, the Times Mirror Company.

Thinking Big is remarkable, colorful tale of dominating, gifted men and women, notably including Dorothy (“Buffy”) Norman, and Otis Chandler. We see in detail how the legendary Harrison Gray Otis, Harry Chandler, and their cohorts first orchestrated the development of Southern California. This involved the manipulation of scarce water resources, the boldest kind of land speculation, promotion of the freeway system and the automobile culture, and their control of the police forces – all bolstered by political clout stemming from the making or breaking of candidates through their newspaper. So power exercised in this story is hardly abstract. We read of the union warfare culminating in the bombing of the Times building and the McNamara brothers’ trial; of the Owens Valley water war; the creation of their huge Mexican and Imperial Valley landholdings as well as Tejon Ranch by the Otises and the Chandlers; and of the modern epoch, with such highlights as the politics of the cultural scene; Buffy Chandler and the Los Angeles Music Center; the GeoTek affair and young Otis Chandler’s connections with it; the ideological transformation of the Times, first signified by its expose of the John Birch Society and, following the Watts riots and Vietnam, is new critical line on Nixon and Watergate.

As Cary McWillaims says of Thinking Big, “its is more than the story of the Times: it is really a large part of the story of Los Angeles. It is, also, very much a part of a larger story – the dynamics of expansionism, of mindless unplanned growth, or free enterprise run amuck.”
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