Coodley's and Amen Schmitt's Napa

Napa, CA, is my hometown. I haven't lived there since 2006-2007—my last go at it—but it remains home. As a child and adolescent I dreamed of leaving town as soon as I turned eighteen, and I did for college in nearby Stockton, but it wasn't until 2009 when I moved to Portland, OR, with my wife that my roots had been officially torn from the soil. Now, in my early 30s, living in Texas, I've begun to become interested in the valley where my family history is deepest. I purchased Lauren Coodley's and Paula Amen Schmitt's Napa: The Transformation of an American Town, Revised Ed. (San Francisco: Arcadia, 2007) in order to learn more about the city itself.

On my father's mother's side of the family I know I have ancestors that go back before 1922 (my great grandfather was born in Napa that year). My father's father's side arrived with my grandfather, I presume sometime in the early to mid-50s. My mother's side arrived in the 70s. I was born in 1982. During that span of time Napa went from backwater farmland to one of the world capitals in wine production and tourism. This book covers the history of the valley from the Native Americans who lived there, but who were eventually eradicated during the Gold Rush Era, to the beginning of the twentieth century when the average Napan realized they couldn't afford to live there. Many of my own family are gone from the Valley, but there remains a remnant.

This book is definitely a "people's history" of Napa. It is thorough, but there are some glaring omissions, like the 1976 "Judgment of Paris", which leads me to wonder whether the authors think the wine industry is the defeat of Napa rather than its victory. They depiction of the industry overall would support that in that it is kinda-sorta presented as what ran off the average Napan and killed local business and creativity. There are other important dates, like the '89 quake, that don't make it in either, but these seem to be due to a lack of space, not a conscious slighting like the lack of history of the wine industry seems to indicate. That said, most books about Napa are about wineries and the families that built them, so a "people's history" is a welcome relief.

If you are looking for a good book, but easy to read, and short enough to do in a couple days, this is a great choice.