Originally published 05/06/2013
Asking Kevin Starr a question is like turning on a fire hose. First there's a blast of erudition. Then, as his intellect gathers, information rushes out in a deluge. He's talking, but it's as if an invisible scholar inside his head is yanking books off shelves, throwing them open, checking the index, then racing off to find the next volume. On the outside, Starr is an avuncular 72-year-old, but his brain is sprinting like an Olympian.Amazingly, it's possible to keep up.This may be Starr's greatest gift: not just that he has amassed a phenomenal body of knowledge but that he can translate it into dynamic works of history. There are eight volumes in his seminal "Americans and the California Dream" series, from "Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915" (1973) to "Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963" (2009). It's for these books — as well as his work as California State Librarian and his stellar teaching career — that Starr will be honored with the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes on April 19....