San Francisco’s history often seems intimately bound up in its geography, from the gritty and surprisingly malleable 19th century shoreline to the seven fabled hills, with cable cars climbing halfway to the stars.
Here are a dozen books that introduce you to the color and characters behind San Francisco and its 49 square miles:
Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco by Gary Kamiya (917.9461 KAMIYA)
Kamiya (who will be speaking at Montclair Library February 2nd) “brings together an exuberant combination of personal insight, deeply researched history, in-depth reporting, and lyrical prose to create an unparalleled portrait of San Francisco. Each of its 49 chapters explores a specific site or intersection in the city, from the mighty Golden Gate Bridge to the raunchy Tenderloin to the soaring sea cliffs at Land’s End.” (GoodReads)
Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit (912.7946 SOLNIT oversize)
“A collaborative atlas of a city, combining maps with essays to tell a community story of a historied and ever-changing place…including essays and maps ranging from Monarch butterflies to Hitchcock’s films to blues clubs.” (Anisse Gross on Buzzfeed)
Chronicles of Old San Francisco: Exploring the Historic City by the Bay by Gael Chandler (not in OPL)
This book isn’t in the OPL system yet, but it sounds like a great companion for Cool Gray City of Love. Plus, author Gael Chandler will be at A Great Good Place for Books tonight (1/15/16) at 7pm. “Discover one of the world’s most unique and fascinating cities through 28 dramatic true stories spanning the colorful history of San Francisco….Along the way you’ll meet characters like the city’s foremother Juana Briones, Gold Rush entrepreneur Levi Strauss, confectioner Domenico Ghirardelli, gangster Al Capone, the rock legends of Haight-Ashbury, activist politician Harvey Milk, the pioneers of today’s techno boom, and many others who changed the face of the city….In addition, guided walking tours of San Francisco’s historic neighborhoods…take readers to the places where history really happened.”
A Short History of San Francisco by Tom Cole (979.461 COLE 2014) (not at Montclair)
Cole takes readers from geologic formation, through the Ohlone and the Gold Rush, to the San Francisco in the second millennium.
Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot (306.09794 TALBOT)
Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 and 1982–and of the extraordinary men and women who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth and triumph. The book takes readers from the 1960s cultural revolution, through dark events of the 70s that rocked the city, including the Zodiac murders and Jonestown. My favorite part about this book was learning the backstory on many of the players who shaped San Francisco in the 1980s and 90s, from Terence Hallinan to Willie Brown.
Baghdad-by-the-Bay by Herb Caen (917.946 C116) (not at Montclair)
“Caen’s post-World War II collection of stories about San Francisco captures the city as it was then, with its covenants against Chinese living outside of Chinatown, the former soldiers and sailors trying to hold down jobs and find a place to live and the drinking culture that has been a constant in the city for over 150 years.” (GoodReads)
Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City’s Past by Rand Richards (917.9461 RICHARDS) (not at Montclair)
“Eighteen self-guided walking tours down city streets that will take you back in time, with colorful stories about the buildings along the way and the people associated with them.” (GoodReads)
The Earth Shook, The Sky Burned by William Bronson (OVERSIZE 979.46 BRONSON)
Pictorial history of the 1906 earthquake.
The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff (810.99794 TARNOFF)
“The unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity.” (GoodReads)
Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer–and of the Mysterious Fires that Baptized Gold Rush-era San Francisco by Robert Graysmith (979.40409 GRAYSMITH)
Biography of the little-known real-life Tom Sawyer (a friend of Mark Twain during his brief tenure as a California newspaper reporter), told through a harrowing account of Sawyer’s involvement in the hunt for a serial arsonist who terrorized mid-nineteenth century San Francisco.
A Writer’s San Francisco: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel (917.9461 MAISEL)
“The city by the bay has been home to generations of writers, from Rudyard Kipling to Mark Twain to Armistead Maupin. Thirty individual essays profile the best sections of the city for pumping up the juices (“The View from Bernal Hill,” “South of Market”), noted literati of the past (“Mark Twain and the Onion”), and much more.” (Google Books) With illustrations by Paul Madonna, of All Over Coffee fame.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (FIC MAUPIN)
The only fiction title on this list, Maupin’s tale of Midwest transplant Mary Ann Singleton brings 1970s San Francisco to life.