From the end of World War II until the 1990s, California possessed a magnetism unique among the 50 states. It was — according to a mythology that was probably overwrought even in those halcyon days — an American Eden, a place where ambition and unfettered imagination combined to make even the most exotic dreams seem feasible.
One of the reasons that image was so enduring was that the state consistently delivered on the outsized expectations. It came to be the epicenter of American entertainment, with “Hollywood” becoming a metonym for the entire industry. It fostered the digital revolution that would eventually flower in Silicon Valley. It constructed one of the nation’s most extensive freeway systems, built a sophisticated infrastructure for delivering water, and developed one of the most impressive networks of universities in the country.