Right Out of California

The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism

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

“Olmstead’s vivid, accomplished narrative really belongs to the historiography of the left . . . as her strong research shows, race and gender prejudice informed, or deformed, almost the whole of American social and cultural life in the 1930s and was as common on the left as on the right.” —The New York Times Book Review

In a 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 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.

At a time when a resurgent immigrant labor movement is making urgent demands on twenty-first-century America—and when a new and virulent strain of right-wing anti-immigrant populism is roiling the political waters—Right Out of California is a fresh and profoundly relevant touchstone for anyone seeking to understand the roots of our current predicament.


“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.”
Kirkus Reviews
In These Times
“An accessible work that aids in contextualizing the rise of future conservative leaders.”
Publishers Weekly
“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 Sacramento Bee

Kathryn Olmsted writes about the phenomenon of modern conservatism and its roots in California big business.

Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly reviews Kathryn Olmsted's Right Out of California, calling it "an accessible work that aids in contextualizing the rise of future conservative leaders."


Goodreads Reviews