Right Out of California

The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism

A magisterial new history of modern American conservatism, uncovering its roots in the turbulent agricultural fields of Depression-era California

“Exquisitely researched and annotated. . . . A startling read of public history.” —Chicago Tribune on Kathryn S. Olmsted’s Real Enemies

In a major reassessment of modern conservatism, noted historian Kathryn S. Olmsted reexamines the explosive labor disputes in the agricultural fields of Depression-era California, the cauldron that inspired a generation of artists and writers and that triggered the intervention of FDR’s New Deal. Right Out of California tells how this brief moment of upheaval terrified business leaders into rethinking their relationship to American politics—a narrative that pits a ruthless generation of growers against a passionate cast of reformers, writers, and revolutionaries.

Olmsted reveals how California’s businessmen learned the language of populism with the help of allies in the media and entertainment industries and in the process created a new style of politics: corporate funding of grassroots groups, military-style intelligence gathering against political enemies, professional campaign consultants, and alliances between religious and economic conservatives. The business leaders who battled for the hearts and minds of Depression-era California, moreover, would go on to create the organizations that launched the careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. A riveting history in its own right, Right Out of California is also a vital chapter in our nation’s political transformation whose echoes are still felt today.


“A well-focused academic study. Olmsted . . . finds in Depression-era California the crucible for strong-arm policies against farm workers that bolstered the conservative movement.”
“Wallace Stegner once quipped that ‘California is like America, only more so.’ Kathryn Olmsted’s study of the Golden State during its violent 1930s proves that California is America, only first so. On its immense rural fields, agribusiness’s corporate titans subdued its drudges in a bloody culture war over fiscal and family values and the right to govern. In this moment, captured in vivid color by California’s most illustrious social commentators, whose dramatic storytelling Olmsted charts (and matches) at every turn, the nation saw the first signs of a conservative revolution that would overwhelm the nation. A major reworking of the Republican right’s origins, this is also a compelling read for anyone interested in California’s outsize importance in America’s recent past.”
—Darren Dochuk, author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism

News and Reviews

The New York Times Book Review Podcast

Sam Tanenhaus discusses Right out of California in The New York Times Book Review Podcast.

The New York Times

The New York Times calls Right out of California, a "vivid, accomplished narrative."

Los Angeles Times

Kathryn S. Olmsted writes an op-ed on the GOP's California roots for the Los Angeles Times


Counterpunch reviews the "stirring" Right Out of California.