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Teddy Roosevelt once exclaimed, ''When I am in California, I am not in the West, I am west of the West,'' and in this book, Mark Arax sets out to explain just what TR meant. His is a compelling, sometimes ominous portrait of a place and its people who are often surviving on the edge, reliving history, and losing their way in the promised land: ''The Summer of the Death of Hilario Guzman'' is a deeply-felt portrait of an immigrant family from Oaxaca, followed through harrowing border crossings and raisin harvests; ''the Last Okie of Lamont,'' (the inspiration for the town featured in The Grapes of Wrath) has only one Okie left, who tells Arax his life story as he drives to a funeral to bury one more Dust Bowl migrant; and ''Highlands of Humboldt'' is a visit to the marijuana growing capital of the U.S., where the local bank collects a sizeable daily deposit of cash, most of which reeks of marijuana.Combining hard-hitting reporting and stellar writing, Arax captures both the atmosphere of social upheaval and the sense of being rooted in a community. Once you meet the people portrayed in this book, you won't forget them.