Campus Authors: Jane Wolff

*Delta Primer: A Field Guide to the California Delta*

(William Stout Publishers, San Francisco)

Jane Wolff, assistant professor in the School of Architecture

The California Delta is one of the most contested landscapes in the United States, critical to the ecology and economy of California. The largest estuary on the West Coast, it was transformed from marshland to farmland 150 years ago, and the intersection of fluctuating natural processes and expanding cultural demands have made it into a strange hybrid: still an agricultural landscape, it has also become the protected habitat of endangered species, the backyard of an intense ring of urban development, and the centerpiece of the vast system that delivers water to Southern California.

Delta Primer, intended to make the particular circumstances of the Delta vivid for broad audiences, includes maps, photographs, a brief history and a lexicon. It is organized around a standard deck of playing cards: four suits, 13 cards each, ranked from ace to king. The suits represent four ways of understanding the landscape: as a garden, as a machine, as a wilderness and as a toy. The cards describe artifacts, practices and processes that belong to and shed light on those categories. Rank depends on the scale of the card’s subject. Four wild cards comprise a panorama of the future.

In his preface, California State Librarian Kevin Starr writes, “Delta Primer is … a toolkit and a kit of parts that represents … a breakthrough in the methodology of environmental science … California has need of the Delta Primer not only for the saving of the Delta itself, but also for the case study that saving the Delta … would offer the rest of the state.”

The hardbound volume retails for $50; the paperback is $35. For further information or to order, go online to

— Liam Otten

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