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Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love

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In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph. Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically changed its In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph. Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically changed itself & then revolutionized the world. The cool gray city of love was the epicenter of the 60s cultural revolution. But by the early 70s, San Francisco’s ecstatic experiment came crashing down from its starry heights. The city was rocked by savage murder sprees, mysterious terror campaigns, political assassinations, street riots & finally a terrifying sexual epidemic. No other city endured so many calamities in such a short time span. Talbot goes deep into the riveting story of his city’s ascent, decline & heroic recovery. He draws intimate portraits of San Francisco’s legendary demons & saviors: Charles Manson, Patty Hearst & the Symbionese Liberation Army, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Bill Graham, Herb Caen, the Cockettes, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones & the Peoples Temple, Joe Montana & the Super Bowl 49ers. He reveals how the city emerged from the trials of this period with a new brand of “San Francisco values,” including gay marriage, medical marijuana, immigration sanctuary, universal health care, recycling, renewable energy, consumer safety & a living wage mandate. Considered radical when they were first introduced, these ideas have become the bedrock of decent society in many parts of the country & exemplify the ways that the city now inspires a live-and-let-live tolerance, a shared sense of humanity & an openness to change. As a new generation of activists & dreamers seeks its own path to a more enlightened future, Season of the Witch—with its epic tale of the wild & bloody birth of San Francisco values—offers both inspiration & cautionary wisdom.


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In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph. Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically changed its In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph. Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically changed itself & then revolutionized the world. The cool gray city of love was the epicenter of the 60s cultural revolution. But by the early 70s, San Francisco’s ecstatic experiment came crashing down from its starry heights. The city was rocked by savage murder sprees, mysterious terror campaigns, political assassinations, street riots & finally a terrifying sexual epidemic. No other city endured so many calamities in such a short time span. Talbot goes deep into the riveting story of his city’s ascent, decline & heroic recovery. He draws intimate portraits of San Francisco’s legendary demons & saviors: Charles Manson, Patty Hearst & the Symbionese Liberation Army, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Bill Graham, Herb Caen, the Cockettes, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones & the Peoples Temple, Joe Montana & the Super Bowl 49ers. He reveals how the city emerged from the trials of this period with a new brand of “San Francisco values,” including gay marriage, medical marijuana, immigration sanctuary, universal health care, recycling, renewable energy, consumer safety & a living wage mandate. Considered radical when they were first introduced, these ideas have become the bedrock of decent society in many parts of the country & exemplify the ways that the city now inspires a live-and-let-live tolerance, a shared sense of humanity & an openness to change. As a new generation of activists & dreamers seeks its own path to a more enlightened future, Season of the Witch—with its epic tale of the wild & bloody birth of San Francisco values—offers both inspiration & cautionary wisdom.

30 review for Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fern

    I was excited to read this book about the history of San Francisco-focusing in on the period between 1967-1982. I grew up in the city during this time and was curious to see what Talbot would have to say about the era. While I appreciated the writing and personal narratives from famous San Francisco characters (oh how I miss Herb Caen!), I found the book to be pretty narrow in it's scope-Basically, its white scope. While Talbot plays lip service to the African-American community in the Filmore and I was excited to read this book about the history of San Francisco-focusing in on the period between 1967-1982. I grew up in the city during this time and was curious to see what Talbot would have to say about the era. While I appreciated the writing and personal narratives from famous San Francisco characters (oh how I miss Herb Caen!), I found the book to be pretty narrow in it's scope-Basically, its white scope. While Talbot plays lip service to the African-American community in the Filmore and the Chinese community (mostly with a portrayal of Rose Pak), you would think that San Francisco was basically a big old gay Irish party from reading this book if you didn't know any better. What about the Mission? What was happening with the Latino community during this time period? I'd sure like to know. Or even the Russian and Jewish community in the Sunset, how did they react to the changes in the air? Pretty disappointed to read this narrowly focused book-I was hoping for better from David Talbot.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    It wasn't always peace and love in San Francisco. Or actually - ever. The hot second of 'gentle people with flowers in their hair' quickly gave way to a myriad of social misery - overdoses, VD, abandoned children, racism, AIDS, murder, manslaughter, etc. The problem was the myth we sang about far outlasted the reality we experienced - I had completely forgotten about the connection between the Jim Jones' mass murders and the Moscone-Milk murders a week later, for example. The book reminds us of It wasn't always peace and love in San Francisco. Or actually - ever. The hot second of 'gentle people with flowers in their hair' quickly gave way to a myriad of social misery - overdoses, VD, abandoned children, racism, AIDS, murder, manslaughter, etc. The problem was the myth we sang about far outlasted the reality we experienced - I had completely forgotten about the connection between the Jim Jones' mass murders and the Moscone-Milk murders a week later, for example. The book reminds us of San Francisco's blue collar, conservative repressed-Catholic heritage - a group of folks who unsurprisingly had a hard time accepting the influx of hippies and gays flooding in on "Trans Love Airways." The trouble I have with this book is that the author edits events tightly to fit his premise: the Summer of Love was overtaken by a decade or so of unspeakable evil until rescued by the soothing, nun-like leadership of Dianne Feinstein and the ebullience the 1981 49rs 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The wrap-up is a little too pat in my opinion, and of course San Francisco has continued to have highs and lows - Loma Prieta, dot com bubble and bust, homelessness, etc. You gotta end the book somewhere. I think Talbot must have been on deadline - he stirred up a great big witch's brew of a story and then leaves us with a shallow 'resolution.' But since this is not a novel no resolution is really necessary (or even possible?) San Francisco's history continues to be written, revised and reinvented. The book was a page-turner, and reminded me once again that the 'good old days' are a complete fantasy. I can't finish without mentioning that Talbot gets his digs in on Ronald Reagan, a president who had lackluster ratings in office but whose myth has continued to grow as the American people forget his complete lack of leadership on AIDS, his early acceptance of racism, the impact of his economic policies on the poor, etc. It's way more comforting to hearken back to an America full of peace and love, and a kindly 'ol Gipper running the show.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Enzi

    WOW! This dazzling page turner tells much of the history of San Francisco during the time I've lived here. From 1966 in the ramp up to the Summer of Love through the Big Gay Immigration boom which brought me here in 1976 through drugs, politics, sex, cults, murders and scandals, this book gets to the heart of the matter. When people hear that I lived here in the 1970s, before AIDS was on anyone's radar, their ears prick up as though they were about to hear a dirty joke. Sure, there were orgies an WOW! This dazzling page turner tells much of the history of San Francisco during the time I've lived here. From 1966 in the ramp up to the Summer of Love through the Big Gay Immigration boom which brought me here in 1976 through drugs, politics, sex, cults, murders and scandals, this book gets to the heart of the matter. When people hear that I lived here in the 1970s, before AIDS was on anyone's radar, their ears prick up as though they were about to hear a dirty joke. Sure, there were orgies and drugs but there was so much more to the whole thrilling bacchanal as we tried to invent a new way to live that made room for our quirks and looked out for our neighbors. David Talbot really gets this distinction and writes about San Francisco with great love, compassion and excitement; all hallmarks of what most of us moved here hoping to find. BRAVO to the author for an excellent book and to SFPL which has made this their "San Francisco Reads" book for May/June 2013. If you have a library card, you can pick this wonderful book up in any branch. It's featured on the NewArrivals shelf.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    It’s difficult to imagine any city in North America that has experienced such a short and intense period of tumult and terror as did San Francisco from the mid-60s to the early 1980s. The Summer of Love. The racist Zebra killings. The People’s Temple mass suicide. The assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. The onset of the AIDS epidemic. And the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis — oh, the music! You can’t make this stuff up. For those of us who lived through this era in and It’s difficult to imagine any city in North America that has experienced such a short and intense period of tumult and terror as did San Francisco from the mid-60s to the early 1980s. The Summer of Love. The racist Zebra killings. The People’s Temple mass suicide. The assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. The onset of the AIDS epidemic. And the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis — oh, the music! You can’t make this stuff up. For those of us who lived through this era in and near San Francisco and even knew some of the players, David Talbot’s masterful portrait of that time and place, Season of the Witch, reawakens memories, some of them long suppressed. To recall that we lived our lives punctuated by such rapidly alternating bouts of exhilaration and despair! Talbot tells the tale of this time through a series of interconnected biographical sketches, bringing the bold-faced names of the 1960s and 1970s back to life in vivid detail: Scott Newhall, Herb Caen, Joe Alioto, Jerry Garcia, Bill Graham, Harvey Milk, Janis Joplin, Dianne Feinstein, and dozens of others. This is a story not of saints and sinners but of flesh-and-blood human beings with their own faults and failings no matter how society may have lionized them. Season of the Witch opens and closes with vignettes from the colorful lives of Vincent and Vivian Hallinan who, with their six pugilistic sons and the other lawyers the old man trained, set the combative tone for progressive politics in the city for decades to come. Talbot makes clear that San Francisco was always a world apart from the nation, with its origins rooted in the frenzy of the Gold Rush (the pro football team isn’t called the 49ers without reason!). “By 1866,” he writes, “there were thirty-one saloons for every place of worship.” Six decades later, “[d]uring the Prohibition era, the local board of supervisors passed legislation forbidding San Francisco police from enforcing the dry law.” It could have been no surprise, then, how young Vincent Hallinan responded in an early court appearance when asked by a judge whether he wished to show contempt for the court: “‘No, Your Honor, I’m trying to conceal it.’” To Talbot, the story of San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s is one of a “new city growing within the old” — the flower children, anti-war protestors, weed smokers and acidheads, the gays, and more gays: these were the newcomers who grafted themselves on to a tradition-bound, Catholic, pro-labor town run by Irish and Italians who were never prone to go down without a fight. David Talbot was the founder and editor-in-chief of the online magazine Salon in 1995 after serving as an editor for both newspapers and magazines. He has written for many other publications and has authored several other books.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is a sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes ecstatic narrative of the dramatic era that brought San Francisco through some incredible times and changes. I can’t say it any better than this review: San Francisco’s Darkest Hours: The founder of Salon takes a fascinating tour of the Golden Gate City, 1967–82. If you love San Francisco — or you’re interested in rock ’n’ roll, gay history, traumatic ‘70s racial politics, or even the 49ers football team, you’ll probably find this book riveting. Fo This is a sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes ecstatic narrative of the dramatic era that brought San Francisco through some incredible times and changes. I can’t say it any better than this review: San Francisco’s Darkest Hours: The founder of Salon takes a fascinating tour of the Golden Gate City, 1967–82. If you love San Francisco — or you’re interested in rock ’n’ roll, gay history, traumatic ‘70s racial politics, or even the 49ers football team, you’ll probably find this book riveting. For example, if you are a San Franciscan, you might be startled to learn that Art Agnos, a former mayor and big-time pol, was almost killed in the famous Zebra killings just a few years before he was first elected to public office. The SF public library has 131 copies to share out, including a bunch on the “On the Same Page” shelf, which means they want as many people to read it, so as to foster local and regional historic awareness and to foster discussion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jay Hinman

    It was with much anticipation and excitement that I started former Salon.com editor David Talbot's 60s-70s-80s history of San Francisco, "SEASON OF THE WITCH", and with much disappointment and disgust that I slammed it down thirteen chapters later. No, I did not finish the book. I'd never get those hours back, and alas, neither will I get back the four or so hours I invested in those 13 chapters. I believe that I can successfully and accurately review the book anyway, and hopefully talk you out It was with much anticipation and excitement that I started former Salon.com editor David Talbot's 60s-70s-80s history of San Francisco, "SEASON OF THE WITCH", and with much disappointment and disgust that I slammed it down thirteen chapters later. No, I did not finish the book. I'd never get those hours back, and alas, neither will I get back the four or so hours I invested in those 13 chapters. I believe that I can successfully and accurately review the book anyway, and hopefully talk you out of any inclination you might have toward reading it. To wit: 1. It has some of the most cringe-worthy, unimaginative writing I've seen in years. I knew in the back of my head that Talbot, for all the initiative and gusto he showed in founding the once-excellent SALON back in the 1990s, was the web magazine's primary weak link when it came to actual journalism. Left-wing and emphatically so to a fault, his screeds about Bush this, 9/11 that (not to mention a bizarro Kennedy assassination obsession) made Michael Moore look like Tom Brokaw. Yet his bozo rock-n-roll shorthand in this book is even worse. He actually writes about how, in the Haight Ashbury, "the idea of free medical service was blowin' in the wind" (I wish I was kidding), and he quotes numerous other hippie rock lyrics in the service of his horrifically purple prose. I just googled the SF Gate review of his book and they respectfully quoted a very representative line, about the murdered George Moscone and Harvey Milk: "Both men gave their lives for this oasis of freedom," Talbot writes, "the city where no stranger was kept outside its golden gate." That's a line the reviewer thought represented Talbot's writing style very well. I think so too. 2. Talbot has absolutely zero nuance, nor the ability to tell a complex tale. In David Talbot's 1960s San Francisco, the world is strictly black and white. The hippies and the people that welcomed them were heroes; the city's Catholic "old guard" were intolerant, incompetent, racist, sexist pigs. Rock and roll, peace and love was all upside. Dissent against the warmed-over, likely half-baked, "Rolling Stone" popular history of liberated 60s San Francisco is nowhere to be found here. Everyone is cast into stereotypical roles: "socialites"; "free thinkers"; gruff, tough-talking cops; gritty newspapermen; earthy rock and rollers like Jerry Garcia; and so on. Talbot shows zero initiative in carving his own researched narrative through the tropes of the past, and instead relies on the sort of Summer of Love picture books I used to flip through as a dumb kid in the 1970s for his journalism. I know this book takes a "darker" turn later, after the part where I stopped reading, yet after such an awful first third, the thought of how badly he'd butcher the People's Temple and Patty Hearst stories was just too much for me to stomach. 3. He believes every bit of BS this city's been telling itself since 1967. I've lived in San Francisco since 1989, and I love it here. The self-congratulatory mythology this city soaks in, however, is and has forever been totally nauseating. Talbot has bought it all hook, line and sinker. He repeatedly waxes rhapsodic about "the fog rolling across the hills" and about San Francisco's "liberated, anything-goes spirit", except he usually uses some trite rock lyric or metaphor to write it even worse than I just did. Anyway, who actually calls this place "the city of love"? No one except for stoned hippie journalists in 1967 did – no one. The last straw for me was Tablot's misty-eyed chapter on San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, "swinging with the hepcats at Tosca", nursing a highball, rapping with Ferlinghetti, stooping down to understand the hippies, wearing his fedora to jazz clubs blah blah blah. I couldn't believe the shorthand and the shortcuts this guy took in the service of telling what could have been an incredible tale. The popular thumbnail view of everything that's happened here, and everyone who did it, just happens to be Talbot's lazy method of describing it as well. All my worst fears about a clunker of a book were realized in its first third, and then some. I'm writing this as a warning to any potential readers, so that you may be dissuaded from investing four hours of your own life into this complete exercise in futility.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ambyr

    I respect the research that went into this book; I wish it hadn't been accompanied by a liberal helping of racism and sexism. Talbot feels compelled to describe the appearance of every woman who features in the narrative, often at the most absurd moments--during an explicit description of an attempted rape, he takes the time to highlight that "in middle age [the victim] was still a striking woman," while elsewhere a doctor tending to a gunshot victim is described as "straddling [him], her dress I respect the research that went into this book; I wish it hadn't been accompanied by a liberal helping of racism and sexism. Talbot feels compelled to describe the appearance of every woman who features in the narrative, often at the most absurd moments--during an explicit description of an attempted rape, he takes the time to highlight that "in middle age [the victim] was still a striking woman," while elsewhere a doctor tending to a gunshot victim is described as "straddling [him], her dress riding up to her thighs." Patty Hearst's rape by Bill Harris is dismissed as being because she "didn't have the will to stand up to him." Lines like that (there were many more, I'm not going to document all of them) were a constant record scratch on my reading experience.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    lordy, this was bleak. it's about san francisco from the late 60s to the early 80s, so i was prepared for the murder of Moscone and Milk and the rise of AIDS, but I was not prepared for zebra killers, jim jones, patty hearst and all the deaths from hard drugs. I was relieved when i got to a couple of chapters on american football which i didn't really understand or care about, but was light relief from everything else. I was not looking forward to reading about AIDS either, but actually, it was lordy, this was bleak. it's about san francisco from the late 60s to the early 80s, so i was prepared for the murder of Moscone and Milk and the rise of AIDS, but I was not prepared for zebra killers, jim jones, patty hearst and all the deaths from hard drugs. I was relieved when i got to a couple of chapters on american football which i didn't really understand or care about, but was light relief from everything else. I was not looking forward to reading about AIDS either, but actually, it was quite a short overview of the history of the disease in San Francisco and was almost uplifting in the way that it talked about the city pulling together, everyone helping each other and the beginnings of medication that could help people survive. I didn't realise how instrumental San Francisco was in the research of the disease and was inspired by the ways that it was dealt with and how ordinary people helped out. I found the chapters about Jim Jones the most difficult to read (although the dan white bits were no picnic) - and was completely unaware of his links with san franciso, moscone and milk. Reading about the deaths of hundreds of Jim Jones's followers was chilling and really stuck in my mind, I couldn't stop thinking about after i finished reading about it over breakfast and then had to go to work at a wedding fair.... anyway, it's a little hard going but it's good and page turnery. i adore san francisco, but feel like i need to read something a little more fun now.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Most of the events occurred in the decade before I moved to San Francisco, but the effects of these upheavals were still felt and formed the structure and personality of the city I lived in for 10 years, and even that time in which I inhabited it can be looked upon with nostalgia since there has been yet another upheaval, shifting the city again. So I was glad to read this book and learn more about events that shaped the City I knew. Talbot gives in depth accounts of the people and the forces th Most of the events occurred in the decade before I moved to San Francisco, but the effects of these upheavals were still felt and formed the structure and personality of the city I lived in for 10 years, and even that time in which I inhabited it can be looked upon with nostalgia since there has been yet another upheaval, shifting the city again. So I was glad to read this book and learn more about events that shaped the City I knew. Talbot gives in depth accounts of the people and the forces that influenced the changes, and much attention is given to the short lived summer of love, undermined and destroyed by the drug culture. It was fascinating to learn about the Haight Ashbury Health Clinic, still on Clayton street over 50 years later. The rock personalities, most notably the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, but then also the politicians who influenced the city, names that are still familiar today such as Ed Lee, current mayor, who was active even then, also the political arc of Diane Feinstein. It may seem simplistic to indicate that the success of the 49ers healed the city at a time when political assassinations, serial killers, and the emergence of AIDS was plunging the city into depression, but by the time I moved here, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh were considered gods, and it was revealing to read of their history and the part played by Eddie DeBartolo. It's always fun to read about a place you're familiar with.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    One of the greatest history accounts I have read on the turbulent past of SF in the mid to late 20th century. Recommended to all those fascinated with the city of San Francisco. A great history of the key players who aided in developing the liberal nature of the city, it's culture of acceptance, and the model it served for the rest of the world. Loved! One of the greatest history accounts I have read on the turbulent past of SF in the mid to late 20th century. Recommended to all those fascinated with the city of San Francisco. A great history of the key players who aided in developing the liberal nature of the city, it's culture of acceptance, and the model it served for the rest of the world. Loved!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jabiz Raisdana

    I loved every page of this book and often stayed up later to get more. I am sad that it is over, because there is so much more I want to learn about my amazing city. What a place. What people. What what crazy stories in one of America's greatest cities. I loved every page of this book and often stayed up later to get more. I am sad that it is over, because there is so much more I want to learn about my amazing city. What a place. What people. What what crazy stories in one of America's greatest cities.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    What an emotional ride to go down history lane from the late 60s to the 90s of the city I love, San Francisco. So many times the book has been recommended to me in the past decade, and I always knew when I finally would pick it up that I would love it. But reading it while I no longer live in San Francisco, brought me so many emotions and a revisit to my deep love for the city I fell in love with, back in 2003, when I moved there. The stories shared throughout this time period were not new to me What an emotional ride to go down history lane from the late 60s to the 90s of the city I love, San Francisco. So many times the book has been recommended to me in the past decade, and I always knew when I finally would pick it up that I would love it. But reading it while I no longer live in San Francisco, brought me so many emotions and a revisit to my deep love for the city I fell in love with, back in 2003, when I moved there. The stories shared throughout this time period were not new to me. During my time in the city, I had heard many of these stories, or pieces of it, which David Talbot brilliantly puts together and shares it as the dark era, the Season of the Witch. (Admittedly, not sure if I liked the book title) But even in those, there were new details I learned and revising some of those stories brought back pain, anger and frustration as when I first heard about them. Ending the stories with a section on Deliverance, surprisingly provoked in me some intense tears of joy, especially when i read about the story about the 49ers, given that I have no interest in American Football. It was a much needed underdog triumph story to read by the end of the book. This book reminded me of the deep passion and magic I felt when I moved to San Francisco. Growing up outside the US, I never thought I would actually live there. It was never in my plans growing up, although one night, out of the blue, I did have a dream that I would live in San Francisco at some point. As I really was adamant of not wanting to live in the US, this felt like a random dream that I didn't think would become prophetic. I remember the feeling when I drove across the Bay Bridge for the first time when I had made a decision to live in San Francisco, and the feeling I had as I viewed the city skyline, knowing that I had finally arrived to my city. And for 13 years, I was a proud San Franciscan, and could never imagine myself living anywhere else. I'm not sure if I will return there, but I realized, after reading this book, my love for this city will never go away. I was a reader that claimed San Francisco as my own city, and was rooting for it the whole way through, taking the pain it went through as personal. Yes, it was epic. And I hope any reader can feel the mysterious magic awe in this gruesome yet beautiful ode to San Francisco.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Season of the Witch is all about the human interest stories of San Francisco, in that tumultuous time from 1967 to 1982. This was when Haight-Ashbury invented the hippie counter-culture, and then that brief glimpse of utopia curdled and imploded in a mass of drug addiction, racial violence, and finally a brutal political assassination. At it's base, San Francisco was a blue collar town, run by a machine of Irish and Italian Catholics. The police force was on the take, the unions were strong, and Season of the Witch is all about the human interest stories of San Francisco, in that tumultuous time from 1967 to 1982. This was when Haight-Ashbury invented the hippie counter-culture, and then that brief glimpse of utopia curdled and imploded in a mass of drug addiction, racial violence, and finally a brutal political assassination. At it's base, San Francisco was a blue collar town, run by a machine of Irish and Italian Catholics. The police force was on the take, the unions were strong, and the stolid families and fringes of Barbary Coast dissolution had their nicely separate spheres. But the arrival of thousands of teenage runaways in the Summer of Love was something else, entirely. As many turned from sex and LSD to harder drugs, 'heavy hippies' organized free clinics and alternative civic services for people the city wanted to push into the Pacific Ocean. But the scene turned bad, and turned bad hard, as speed and heroin ate the heart out of the movement. A few 'heavy hippies' held on, but most burned out or fled to the country. Predators in love beads took over the Haight, with the Altamont Rolling Stone show definitively ending the 60s. Then the terror started in earnest. The Fillmore district had long been home of San Francisco's Black middle class, but an urban renewal project shuttered the businesses and left it a wasteland. Prisons served as pressure cookers for radicalism, including the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Zebra killers, serial killers who targeted white victims for alleged mystical purposes. As the hippies were winding down, gay liberation was winding up, with the Castro becoming the epicenter a bold uncloseted homosexuality. Harvey Milk was elected to the board of supervisions, with the administration of Mayor George Moscone breaking the old guard Catholic machine to represent the city's diversity. Both men were deeply tied to cult leader Jim Jones, who's People's Temple was an octopus in the city's progressive movements. The Jonestown massacre and political assassination of Moscone and Milk by ex-supervisor Dan White was a comprehensive shock, the worst day since the 1906 Earthquake. Talbot ends on a happy note, arguing that the 1982 victory of the 49ers healed the city, but the epilogue, on the scything effects of AIDS on San Francisco's gay community, is the real story of the end of the period, a new batch of horrors. Talbot's book is flawed as sociology, and it overlooks the city's Asian and Hispanic residents in favor of charismatic White boomers of various stripes. But it's also a fantastic story page-by-page, and a vivid, fun book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Every San Fransican needs to read this book to understand the tumult our city has endured to get where it is is today. Spectacular writing of the 60s (and before), The role of the Dead in the Haight Ashbury, the importance of music to the city, Jonestown, the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the details of the rise of so many characters in the SF landscape including Harvey Milk, Diane Feinstein, Mayors Moscone, Alioto. A romping, rough ride through the history of SF. Wonderful.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nils

    Published in 2012, Talbot’s book was composed at the very moment where the particular liberal political and cultural formation the book celebrates was coming to an end — as the tech-ification of San Francisco in the 2010s displaced the old “fly your freak flag freely” political culture that emerged in the 1990s. The thesis of this book is that the cultural and political history of San Francisco in the second half of the twentieth century consisted of a drawn out battle between the old conservati Published in 2012, Talbot’s book was composed at the very moment where the particular liberal political and cultural formation the book celebrates was coming to an end — as the tech-ification of San Francisco in the 2010s displaced the old “fly your freak flag freely” political culture that emerged in the 1990s. The thesis of this book is that the cultural and political history of San Francisco in the second half of the twentieth century consisted of a drawn out battle between the old conservative Catholic political establishment and the emergent counterculture and its liberal allies — a battle that eventually the liberals won in the 1980s. While this was indeed a crucial transition in San Francisco’s civic culture, as I will discuss below, the periodization Talbot proposes is highly questionable. Written in a rollicking if somewhat breathless and at times cliched style (whenever Talbot introduces us to a hooker, for example, we rarely need wait more than a sentence or two to learn what her heart is made of), the book offers many compelling and indeed often poignant personality sketches of legendary San Francisco denizens, from Vincent Hallinan and Herb Caen to Patty Hearst and Janis Joplin. Stylistically, Talbot’s episodic narrative approach also allows for heavy literary-style adumbrations: for example when the Haight Ashbury free clinic brings in the Hells Angels for security in 1967, Talbot observes that, “people knew that bringing the bikers into the equation was like bringing a jungle cat on a leash into a party: it could all be cool—or not” (57) — anticipating the role that the Angels will play at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway three years later. Indeed, Talbot’s fervent desire to turn San Francisco’s history into a morality tale in which the good guys persevere through adversity to triumph is likely what leads to the various dubious historical judgments that litter the book. The essence of this morality tale is actually a weirdly inverted version of the longstanding calumny from the right that the counterculture’s utopian aspirations, as embodied by the hyper-cliched “summer of love,” curdled into something rancid. Talbot largely accepts this charge, but apologizes for it in a “mistakes were made” vein (as with the Hells Angels allusion, above). Like many an apologist for Revolutionaries before him, he actually avoids taking in the continuity, the way that the rancid turn of events was baked into the utopian dreamworld to begin with. It’s easy to riff from an anecdote that whereas in 1969 “counterculture communities like the Haight took care of the [Vietnam] War’s mangled souls,” (126) by 1970 “the Diggers has scattered [and] there were no more street guardians to look out for the lost children” (131); but it’s much more painful for a cheerleader of the counterculture like Talbot to acknowledge that the abandonment was embedded in the intellectual and institutional weakness of the initial promise. He quotes Stewart Brand’s apt reflection that Altamont showed that “unleashing Dionysus” creates inevitable results, but then quickly moves past this, observing that most people at the time weren’t interested in “such philosophical reflections.” Unfortunately, this means that Talbot ends up reflecting rather than dissecting the misunderstandings that the protagonists had of their own historical significance. In particular, he seems to be entirely credulous about the liberating potential of rock and roll, peppering his text with rock lyric references, as if these were profound philosophical bons mots. Worse than that, Talbot’s focus on telling chapter-by-chapter narratives of specific episodes ends up creating what are at best misleading if not downright false interpretations. To speak of the Zebra murders or Symbionese Liberation Army, with their roots in prison culture and black nationalism, as somehow reflecting the counterculture-gone-to-seed is to buy into the venerable rightwing narrative about “cultural rot” and “permissiveness” as some overriding explanandum for the political traumas of the 1970s. The problem with this interpretation is that the SLA and the Zebra murderers weren’t rock stars or teenager runaways or drug addicts (i.e. the modal figures of the counterculture) gone political. Indeed, the counterculture and the radicalism of the SLA or the Zebra Murderers were, politically speaking, wholly different creatures — the former more aligned with anarchism, the latter with varieties of authoritarian pseudo Marxism or black radicalism. The SLA specifically might more accurately be tied to radicalization of certain post-New Left factions by their failure to stop the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration, and corporate power. But in fact the New Left and the counterculture had little in common (certainly not politically) other than a dislike for the Man, and enjoying the occasional joint. Sure, Altamont, the SLA, and the Zebra murders were all phenomena that Normies regarded as showing the country was going to hell in a handbasket, led by feckless kids, but except for the spurious right wing narrative itself, these things had virtually nothing to do with one another. Talbot’s description of the curdling urban disorder of San Francisco in the 1970s provides little sense of what (if anything) made the Bay Area different during that decade, when much of the country seemed to many to be going to pot. Indeed, arguably the Bay Area and San Francisco weren’t that politically unusual in the 1970s: resistance to integration, spiking drug use, fracturing families, racially tinged urban violence, and tax revolt were all national rather than region-specific phenomena. (One thing that *was* uniquely taking place in the Bay Area during these years was that a different strand of the counterculture, instead of going to seed, was busy inventing a new computer networking cyberculture. This is a major miss by Talbot, since it is in fact THIS descendent of the 1960s which ends up decisively winning the political and cultural battle for San Francisco in the 2010s, as bobo techies enabled by Mayors Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee’s tax policies took over the place.) One major distinctive feature of San Francisco life in the 1970s was the emergence of an open gay culture, which Talbot rightly (if obviously) emphasizes. The murder of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk by fellow City Supervisor Dan White in 1978, which occupies the last third of the book, indeed embodied the political clash between the emergent culture of personal liberation and the old Catholic establishment. But even here, Talbot’s narrative of the larger significance of this “gay political moment” is dubious. By the 1980s, with the AIDS crisis spurring even more gay activism, San Francisco again emerged with a unique politics, but this new political culture in fact grew not out the counterculture, but instead was a heritor to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a topic Talbot touches on only in passing. Another critique of the book is that it is very much a white, leftish Boomer’s view of San Francisco: other than a chapter on Rose Pak which feels like a cliché of “tokenism,” you’d barely know from reading this book that the city is a third Asian. Likewise, the fact that San Francisco’s black population dropped by a third during the era described in this book is only brought up as an explanation for a serial killing binge perpetrated against whites; there is almost no time spent on what the successive waves of so-called “redevelopment” felt like to the African American community itself. From another angle, you’d also never know that this was also a time of great professional liberation for women, or of urban- and corporate-design flourishing, as described in Alison Isenberg’s recent book. Indeed, the book has an almost desperate desire to essentialize San Francisco as having some “true” core of social meaning. This leads to weird incongruities where Talbot hyperventilates about the (very real) Zebra murders turning San Francisco “against itself” in 1973-4, but then celebrates Armistead Maupin’s (unabashedly fantastic) “Tales of the City” as capturing the San Francisco’s true fabulousness just two years later. Ideas of multiplicity and contradiction seem utterly alien to Talbot. Everything that takes place is represented as a “battle for San Francisco’s soul.” As he tells all these stories, Talbot also seems to lose the thread of his powerful main thesis, which is really about the downfall of the Catholic conservative political establishment in San Francisco from its apex in the early 1960s, when it was largely successful in marginalizing and harassing the weirdos who congregated there, and the mid-1990s, when a new political cohort finally took over. Talbot wants to date the transition to fifteen years earlier, in the early 1980s, because of a sentimental, boosterish desire to anoint Dianne Feinstein and the 49ers football dynasty as the things that brought the city together and allowed it to “bind up” its cultural differences. In fact, however, the last of San Francisco’s Catholic establishment mayors was Frank Jordan, who was only replaced by Willie Brown in 1996. It was really the changing demographics of the city (and the realization of the developer class that they could get what they wanted more effectively by working with Brown, Gavin Newsom, and Brown’s protégée, Ed Lee), as well as the broader political eclipse of the Catholic Church in the face of sex scandals, that led to the final changing of the guard. Old Catholic San Francisco basically no longer exists as a serious political force in the city, but who won was not the hippies, but the techies. In sum, although Talbot offers a well told series of vignettes, and a correct assessment of the overarching political direction of the city during the second half of the twentieth century, his narrative is marred by numerous dubious assessments, above all taking the city’s various clowns too seriously and being too generous towards its liberal political operators. To make the case that the old Catholic establishment was gross should not require failing to acknowledge the limits of their progressive successors.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Justin Sorbara-Hosker

    Won’t blow you away with style, but well put together and researched. The amount of story in the subject he has chosen (and the time span he chose to cover) makes it surprising that this came in under 500 pages at all – which may be why he left out Zodiac, & the ’89 earthquake. Hippies, Patty Hearst, drugs, bikers, Altamont, racial tension, Jonestown, birth of gay rights, murder, politics - and more. Solid reporting and storytelling; probably essential reading for fans of this city. PRO -Research Won’t blow you away with style, but well put together and researched. The amount of story in the subject he has chosen (and the time span he chose to cover) makes it surprising that this came in under 500 pages at all – which may be why he left out Zodiac, & the ’89 earthquake. Hippies, Patty Hearst, drugs, bikers, Altamont, racial tension, Jonestown, birth of gay rights, murder, politics - and more. Solid reporting and storytelling; probably essential reading for fans of this city. PRO -Research. This is a city I love, though I love it from afar, but there was lots I found out here I didn’t now, from more about the hippies and several other local subcultures, to the random (and savage) race based killings called the Zebra murders. -Though the bulk of the book is criminal insanity, there is a lot of insider information on politics and history of the times he covers (and the times that formed the city) -Although concludes on the birth of AIDS in SF, ends with a glimmer of hope: the AIDS crisis as influence for forming SF’s current, compassionate identity … which helps after the concluding section – Jonestown and the assassination of Milk and Moscone. Pretty slight glimmer that could have been expanded on, but still. CON -Cover, and a little less so, title. Why put Coppola’s North Beach building on the cover (in the dark), when so little of the book’s narrative even takes place in North Beach? And if you want North Beach on the cover, a stock photo of one of the sleazier areas? Couldn't be that hard to find ... should have been something in the Haight, or the Castro, or even City Hall. -Though I did like it, almost a DNF at a couple of points. Or if not a DNF, a ‘put down for a while & read something a little lighter’. The cumulative effect of the section entitled ‘Terror,’ which could have also been called ‘Blood,’ gets to be quite a downer after a while. Occasionally a bit graphic, and veers into the standard (and exploitative) true crime book territory. It’s far from the “Let’s Take an Axe to Granny for her Double Wide,” but still. -Understood the point of the section about the ‘49ers, but totally didn’t care. But that’s just me. -A blurb from freaking Peter Coyote, who is clearly a friend, & quoted regularly in the book, is a little unnecessary. -A sentence, every once in a while, that you wonder how it made it past any editor. Either jarringly awkward, insensitive, or just downright bad.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aubreywynn

    Worth the read for the panoramic and general tour of San Francisco's history, from 1930-1989, Talbot introduces a cornucopia of cast members against the ever abused imaginary stage of San Francisco's past. Despite his floundering attempts to add depth to his ever expanding cast of characters, Talbots writing is a lesson in binarism and blindness. But even as cliche-filled, linguistically stunted and intellectually-numbing as Season of the Witch is, I had a hard time putting it down for its Da Vin Worth the read for the panoramic and general tour of San Francisco's history, from 1930-1989, Talbot introduces a cornucopia of cast members against the ever abused imaginary stage of San Francisco's past. Despite his floundering attempts to add depth to his ever expanding cast of characters, Talbots writing is a lesson in binarism and blindness. But even as cliche-filled, linguistically stunted and intellectually-numbing as Season of the Witch is, I had a hard time putting it down for its Da Vinici Code-esque intrigue and churning pace. If you're willing to overlook the undeniably grievous abuse of metaphor and indulge yourself in yet another caricature of "the City," it's a quick read that will hopefully leave you delving for more. For the latest generation of transplants and windy footed children of San Francisco, it is a necessary history lesson, about as nuanced and polemic and as your 8th grade US History textbook. Talbot's greatest strength lies in his compassion for the San Francisco's bewildering band of miscreants and messengers, through their sickness and health. Perhaps this kind of passion skewers his candor and nuance, but it leaves us with a glimmer of his love for San Francisco. Season of the Witch is an egregious sonnet of a scarred and scared Mercury, unfit but game to write his eulogy to deified poets past.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Dante is often quoted (I paraphrase) as finding heaven the hardest to write of all the sections of his Divine Comedy. I wonder if the writer Talbot had similar difficulties on certain sections of this exuberant popular history of one of my favorite cities, San Francisco during the sixties and seventies. His writing about the utopian early hippie days and an attempt at redemption in an effective stint at mayor by Diane Feinstein and a good 49ers season (I did find the section on the city’s respon Dante is often quoted (I paraphrase) as finding heaven the hardest to write of all the sections of his Divine Comedy. I wonder if the writer Talbot had similar difficulties on certain sections of this exuberant popular history of one of my favorite cities, San Francisco during the sixties and seventies. His writing about the utopian early hippie days and an attempt at redemption in an effective stint at mayor by Diane Feinstein and a good 49ers season (I did find the section on the city’s response to the AIDs epidemic inspiring compared to the cold shoulder New York gave in the same era.), are overshadowed by the middle section. This section is the inferno. Talbot calls it Terror. Here is a city at war with itself in the dread seventies. Hard drugs take over the Haight, the Altamont disaster spoils the mood and the revolutionary movements move towards rage. These changes happened all over the country in the Nixon years but San Franscisco seemed to be hit the worse, the Red Queen section of the wonderland replete with death cults, violent revolutionaries, mad bombers, and assassinations. Talbot’s portrayal of S.L.A., the People’s Temple, and the Zebra murders are chilling and compulsory reading, but thankfully also nuanced and fresh takes on these horrific events.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    A fast-moving and concise history of San Francisco -- The City -- during a vivid, terrible, and pivotal time in its history, from 1967, the time of the Summer of Love, through 1982 and the start of the AIDS epidemic, which would devastate the City. "The nonstop party that was San Francisco seemed to end overnight." Even before 1982, we read of momentous and sometimes-dreadful events: the end of the hippie era, the rise of impresario Bill Graham, the musical influence the City would have on the n A fast-moving and concise history of San Francisco -- The City -- during a vivid, terrible, and pivotal time in its history, from 1967, the time of the Summer of Love, through 1982 and the start of the AIDS epidemic, which would devastate the City. "The nonstop party that was San Francisco seemed to end overnight." Even before 1982, we read of momentous and sometimes-dreadful events: the end of the hippie era, the rise of impresario Bill Graham, the musical influence the City would have on the national culture, the political changes at City Hall, the Zebra and Zodiac killing sprees, the Jim Jones cult and the Jonestown massacre, the assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the White Night riot, the rise of Dianne Feinstein, the terrible scenes of the epidemic. In this book, the people live again in all their full color, the story evokes a genuine sense of the times. Highly recommend, and not just for those who lived then or lived there. "From the lone shieling of the misty bay Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas; Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is San Francisco, And we, in dreams, behold the Farallons."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Frances

    San Francisco is one of the great loves of my life, so there is a lot here that was engrossing and emotional for me to read. But I can't get over the lip service paid to women African Americans, Asian Americans, and the complete absence of Latinos other than once when being accused of hate crimes in the Castro. Huge swaths of the city were written out. San Francisco is one of the great loves of my life, so there is a lot here that was engrossing and emotional for me to read. But I can't get over the lip service paid to women African Americans, Asian Americans, and the complete absence of Latinos other than once when being accused of hate crimes in the Castro. Huge swaths of the city were written out.

  21. 5 out of 5

    audrey

    This book was recommended to me and the recommendation was spot-on. A solid, informative read about San Francisco, 1967-1993. Not an earth-shaking read (ha ha), but a deeply coherent one, that goes in-depth on events from the Summer of Love and attendant influx of runaways, through Altamont, The Cockettes, The Good Earth commune, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Zebra and Zodiac killers, Armistead Maupin, the People's Temple, the assassination of Joe Alioto and Harvey Milk, a This book was recommended to me and the recommendation was spot-on. A solid, informative read about San Francisco, 1967-1993. Not an earth-shaking read (ha ha), but a deeply coherent one, that goes in-depth on events from the Summer of Love and attendant influx of runaways, through Altamont, The Cockettes, The Good Earth commune, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Zebra and Zodiac killers, Armistead Maupin, the People's Temple, the assassination of Joe Alioto and Harvey Milk, and the AIDS crisis, coming to a close just as the first cocktail of AIDS drugs began to show promise. It is A Lot. And for the most part, it's fairly glorious, especially the early sections, set in the Haight district of the city. There's a lot of eyewitness accounts, and the author spends some time drawing out the scene just before the Summer of Love began and things started to go a little haywire. And a lot of this early section incorporates lots of the bands that grew out of that era and area, which were really phenomenal and also provide much-needed context on much of the activity leading into the darker times still to come. The author even includes a soundtrack at the conclusion of the book, although tbh I queued up a good psychedelic Spotify playlist while I was reading, so I wish the soundtrack listing had come earlier. The narrative is structured loosely around who's who in politics for each of the events depicted, which does two things: 1) it provides context around some of the policies handed down from City Hall at the time, and 2) introduces some characters who went on to become longtime serving forces in San Francisco, such as Willie Brown, Rose Pak, and Dianne Feinstein. But this doesn't always make for scintillating reading, and at some points it does feel a little unbalanced. For instance, directly after the Summer of Love in 1967, the city was overwhelmed with hundreds of runaways, many of whom were underage and/or needed drug intervention or mental health support. Because the city didn't have the capacity to scale up their services, Reverend Ed Beggs opened a halfway house for runaways in the Haight. Now, according to the author, the city tried to crack down on Beggs' house repeatedly because of the strong, traditional Irish Catholic beliefs of the then-chief of police, mayor and leading family court judge, who all knew each other and were all Irish. (This last fact gets repeated quite a bit. Quite a bit.) While I know there was quite a clash between the Haight's ethos of drugs and love for all and that of the more traditional areas of the city, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this explicit framing. I think the issues might've gone a little deeper than that. That said, this twining of each era's social events with the political structure provides a deeper context, of course. You learn (or at least I did) how much of City Hall (including Joe Alioto and Harvey Milk and Willie Brown) were deep in the pockets of Jim Jones before his tragic exodus to Guyana (I found that section super harrowing, including the author's descriptions of finding the source materials harrowing). Or Dianne Feinstein's involvement in the aftermath of Alioto and Milk's shooting, and her response to the AIDS crisis (which was apparently to approve every request for funding for support and research that came across her desk). The book hits a pretty big lull after the Peoples Temple, and struggles with the Zebra and Zodiac killers before going all-in on City Hall and its denizens, which only interests me as they relate to the larger picture of social change. It still kept my attention, though, and I learned an absolute ton of new information, despite having lived in the SF Bay Area for fully half the period covered by the book. Overall, a satisfying if slightly uneven deep dive for California history nerds, and a great rec for me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Season of the Witch is an engaging, interesting overview of San Francisco during two very turbulent decades. David Talbot takes readers through twenty years of history in a city that’s undergone massive change and social turmoil, highlighting the lives of the city’s most colorful inhabitants. The chapters are short - great for commuting - and vary from stories about criminal cases, like the Zebra Murders, to the rise of the Cockettes. I really vacillated between three and four stars on this one. Season of the Witch is an engaging, interesting overview of San Francisco during two very turbulent decades. David Talbot takes readers through twenty years of history in a city that’s undergone massive change and social turmoil, highlighting the lives of the city’s most colorful inhabitants. The chapters are short - great for commuting - and vary from stories about criminal cases, like the Zebra Murders, to the rise of the Cockettes. I really vacillated between three and four stars on this one. The stories are compelling and the writing is decent (though I could have dealt with fewer maudlin metaphors). However, the lack of a real narrative arc and its overall one-sided treatment of the city’s history brought this down to three stars. It’s still worth reading, but I’d recommend it with reservations. For example, Talbot constantly hammers home this point about “San Francisco values,” which got a little tiresome after awhile. I am proud and happy to live in one of the most liberal cities in America, and I support “San Francisco politics.” But it feels like Talbot is selectively editing out the stories and people who don’t fit his agenda, and he steamrolls right past some of the ethnic groups that he vaguely references. Beyond dedicating a chapter to Rose Pak - a chapter in which he doesn’t actually disclose any of Rose’s specific accomplishments or neighborhood allies - there’s not very much information about the culture clashes between the Irish, Latino, Chinese, and Italian sectors of the city. I would have loved to read more about the transformation of a neighborhood like the Mission. It felt like this was missing solid context. What was most of the city doing while .001% of it was on acid at a Jefferson Airplane show? I also think it’s pretty disingenuous to keep trumpeting that the Irish Catholics were being pushed out of a city that they “didn’t understand,” given that most of the gay and hippie population in SF during the 60s and 70s was made up of transplants to the area. It’s wonderful that SF has been a haven for many different groups during its various periods of history, but as Talbot explicitly says during one of his asides, the middle-class tax bracket funding city hall was none too happy about the Haight’s transformation into a dangerous, junkie-ridden smack den, and I can’t really blame them for that. There’s a balance between razing the Fillmore and totally sweeping aside the experiences of the people who lived in San Francisco prior to the Summer of Love, and I don’t think Talbot managed to get that balance. Without an objective perspective, the stories become less meaningful and feel more like a forced, one-sided retelling of events. Anyway, I flew through this book - its minor flaws make it read like fiction - and I liked the general overview of SF’s history it provided. And I really want to read more about Janis Joplin now!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Allee

    I did not think this book was very good; I read it and finished because a friend loaned it to me thinking I would like it and kept asking me about it. Luckily it was a relatively quick read. This is a 'history of San Francisco' as told through a series of white guys, by a white guy. (For realz. Chapter after chapter, each one was a look at a different white guy. Chapter TWENTY ONE was the first one to feature a female. And the chapter was titled 'The Empress of Chinatown' for christs sake). And I did not think this book was very good; I read it and finished because a friend loaned it to me thinking I would like it and kept asking me about it. Luckily it was a relatively quick read. This is a 'history of San Francisco' as told through a series of white guys, by a white guy. (For realz. Chapter after chapter, each one was a look at a different white guy. Chapter TWENTY ONE was the first one to feature a female. And the chapter was titled 'The Empress of Chinatown' for christs sake). And for as many neighborhoods as SF has, it basically takes place in the Haight. It gets worse: the prose is bad; the construction is pretty sloppy; it generalizes all over the place. It was a mildly interesting page turner, and as someone who works in SF it was interesting to learn what (or who) everything around me is named for - the Bill Graham auditorium, Moscone Center, etc. But still, in its effort to the events of the 60s, 70s, and 80s into the 'enchantment, terror, and deliverance' narrative, it left broad swaths of the actual city out of the story entirely, and I suspect glossed over and/or mischaracterized many of the events.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barry Sierer

    Talbot’s tales are, emotional, biased, frequently outrageous, but undeniably fascinating. He weaves together a history of a city that struggles to manage its openness to new ideas, people, and creeds, with its need to function as normally as possible. In order to illustrate this; Talbot profiles many of San Francisco’s most notable personalities such as Herb Caine and Armistead Maupin (author of “Tales of the City”) who promulgated a version of the city that is, at least partially, an illusion, a Talbot’s tales are, emotional, biased, frequently outrageous, but undeniably fascinating. He weaves together a history of a city that struggles to manage its openness to new ideas, people, and creeds, with its need to function as normally as possible. In order to illustrate this; Talbot profiles many of San Francisco’s most notable personalities such as Herb Caine and Armistead Maupin (author of “Tales of the City”) who promulgated a version of the city that is, at least partially, an illusion, as well as politicians such as Alioto, Moscone and Feinstein, who accepted that diversity is an essential aspect of the City’s character, but struggle to manage its effects. In many ways, Talbot’s history comes across as the story of a potent narcotic. It provides a high as a refuge for utopian visionaries such as the Diggers, but demands a steep price when that same refuge is exploited by sociopaths such as the Reverend Jim Jones. For those seeking to understand, and revel a bit, in this city’s bewildering history, Talbot’s work may be your best bet.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wayne

    Thank you to my friend Terri Pilate for recommending this extremely engaging and brilliantly told non-fiction book about a short few decades of San Francisco history. It's a period between the 60's and 80's and one I thought I knew very well--having lived in the SF Bay Area for most of that time. I actually learned quite a lot I didn't know, and was able to understand that period of my life a whole lot better. If you remember Moscone, Milk, Bil Graham, Herb Cain, Patty Hearst, Janis Joplin, the Thank you to my friend Terri Pilate for recommending this extremely engaging and brilliantly told non-fiction book about a short few decades of San Francisco history. It's a period between the 60's and 80's and one I thought I knew very well--having lived in the SF Bay Area for most of that time. I actually learned quite a lot I didn't know, and was able to understand that period of my life a whole lot better. If you remember Moscone, Milk, Bil Graham, Herb Cain, Patty Hearst, Janis Joplin, the Hippie days of Haight Ashbury, "the Catch", then this book is going to fascinate you. Should be required reading in California high schools. Just an excellent and often moving book! Read it!!!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    The content of the book was great. I enjoyed the history of SF, some of the stories so familiar and some new to me. Seeing famous San Franciscans in a new context was what kept me reading the book. However I found the tone to be snarking and insulting at times. If the stories of the wild times in SF hadn’t been so great there would be little to this book for me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anton Miller

    Wonderful portrait of San Francisco during a time of extreme change and significance. Many winding threads connecting in unexpected places and huge revelations even to someone who has lived in the bay area almost his whole lift. Highlights: SF was full of opium dens in early 20th century City passed laws during prohibition that stopped cops from enforcing dry laws Irish catholic city and police were powerful, conservative factions in late 60s City planned an extension of the freeway that demolishe Wonderful portrait of San Francisco during a time of extreme change and significance. Many winding threads connecting in unexpected places and huge revelations even to someone who has lived in the bay area almost his whole lift. Highlights: SF was full of opium dens in early 20th century City passed laws during prohibition that stopped cops from enforcing dry laws Irish catholic city and police were powerful, conservative factions in late 60s City planned an extension of the freeway that demolished the haight, went to the panhandle. Dignity health (st Mary's back then) had a history of turning away drug overdoses in middle of 19th c Fillmore was the Harlem of the west, redevelopment pushed out black residents, bars and stores, turned Geary into expressway for driving rather than bustling commercial center Right wing Examiner used to be top paper, chronicle (owner by de young family) passed it up by moving left, championing hippies and other lefty causes, telling ridiculous and fun stories which were sometimes fake Groups like the diggers and good earth had multiple houses and provided free services and community, unraveled due to drugs Early 70s police were busting 3k gays a year on sex charges Zuni opened in 79 by gay chef Billy West, initially Adobe Mexican. Switched to chez panisse influenced Italian and French. Julia Child, Robin Williams, hunter Thompson, Mick jagger, Ted Kennedy, Phillip Roth all fans. Early days staff was drunk and people were fucking and shooting up in the bathroom George Moscone as mayor: feud with old school cops, appointed liberal police chief, stopped racial profiling, went easy on prostitution, decriminalization of marijuana. Big partier with Willie Brown, lots of women and drugs on the side. Beholden to cult leader Jim Jones for votes, appointed him head of housing commission which he used to put his people on payroll and commandeer public housing for temple members. Jones had connections and relationships with Feinstein, Willie brown, Reagan, Jimmy Carter, kissinger, Jerry brown, Harvey milk, ACLU and other organizations. Also had the DA in his pocket. Niners played in kezar from, 46 to 71, overcrowded, drunk, uncomfortable, seagull shit everywhere.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Teri Ann

    Enjoyable read. An historical guidebook or sketchbook of the history, art, music, and culture of SF from the 1960s-1980s. Some chapters I wish he'd extend and others shorten. We are familiar with some of the main characters, but I also learned a great deal about the City by the Bay that I didn't know. He bruised my opinion of some I admire (Moscone, etc), but made me appreciate others even more (Walsh, etc). There are excellent quotes throughout the book by the author and others--it will make yo Enjoyable read. An historical guidebook or sketchbook of the history, art, music, and culture of SF from the 1960s-1980s. Some chapters I wish he'd extend and others shorten. We are familiar with some of the main characters, but I also learned a great deal about the City by the Bay that I didn't know. He bruised my opinion of some I admire (Moscone, etc), but made me appreciate others even more (Walsh, etc). There are excellent quotes throughout the book by the author and others--it will make you laugh and cry.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Allan S. Manalo

    I love reading about the history of the City I love, especially now when the cultural fabric is unraveling due to the influx of start-up money and young millionaires who have no interest in the colorful history that made SF so wonderful. A City of inclusivity and unbridled, irreverent artists is being replaced by a homogenous, gentrified metropolis of unaffordable living and soul-less expressions. Back to the book: There's also a very cool list of music! I love reading about the history of the City I love, especially now when the cultural fabric is unraveling due to the influx of start-up money and young millionaires who have no interest in the colorful history that made SF so wonderful. A City of inclusivity and unbridled, irreverent artists is being replaced by a homogenous, gentrified metropolis of unaffordable living and soul-less expressions. Back to the book: There's also a very cool list of music!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    This is the first full length piece of work by David Talbot that I have read. Most importantly, it has left me more in love with San Francisco than ever before. Second, it made me realize what a center of the world SF was in the 1970s and 80s ... how much of what happened here I remember so well even though I was a kid in rural Maine. Third, I believe it has started me on a relationship with David Talbot, and I'm not sure the exact nature of this relationship. I mean, how many people could write This is the first full length piece of work by David Talbot that I have read. Most importantly, it has left me more in love with San Francisco than ever before. Second, it made me realize what a center of the world SF was in the 1970s and 80s ... how much of what happened here I remember so well even though I was a kid in rural Maine. Third, I believe it has started me on a relationship with David Talbot, and I'm not sure the exact nature of this relationship. I mean, how many people could write about football in a way that would leave me sobbing? and yet, who else WOULD write about the assassination of a man which happened in his car with a consort who had her "Face buried in his crotch"? The man exudes love for this city and for a sort of "hard hippie" liberalism while seeming to leak testosterone on every page. (I wonder if he and Michael Chabon are friends?)

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