Sam Jackson

5 Must Read Books About San Francisco

For residents and non-residents alike

1. Season of the Witch

While perhaps an obvious pick, Season of the Witch earns its acclaim. David Talbot chronicles the story of the city and its inhabitants from the mid-sixties to early eighties in a way that brings more life to his subjects than most novels can manage. His task probably wasn't made harder due to the sheer volume of crazy stuff happened along the way. Just a sampling of the sagas involved:

  • The summer of love
  • Janis Joplin
  • The zebra killings
  • Patty Hearst
  • Jonestown massacre
  • Assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone
  • AIDs epidemic
..and way, way more. If you live in the Bay, you should absolutely read it. If you don't, you should read it too.

2. Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region

Though the forecast for San Francisco can be summarized as "low 60s, reasonably sunny" year round, if you've spent any amount of time in the city you know there's a lot more going on than that. The weather frequently defies all logic -- how can it be 75 and sunny in the Mission and 55 and encased in fog in the Sunset four miles away?

This guide explains the seasonal temperatures, fog, and more in an scientific but not overly technical way. You'll finally learn what a marine layer is, how the Coriolis effect messes with our sunshine, and when to expect the fog to billow in.

3. Infinite City

This book is the best. Rebecca Solnit collects 22 artists' renditions of the San Francisco grid and overlays them along all sorts of fascinating (and at times bizarre) facts and perspectives. A few of my favorite:

  • Phrenological San Francisco -- the city imagined as a human head, with different neighborhoods ascribed different phrenological regions
  • Poison / Palate -- a map of the city showing it's toxic hotspots as well as its noteworthy culinary experiences
  • The Mission: North of Home, South of Safe -- a history of the gangs of San Francisco and the territories they now fight over
There's much to be learned here, but also great art to be appreciated for it's own sake. Must read.

4. Hell's Angels

The Hell's Angels are legendary, and so is Hunter S. Thompson. Back in the mid-sixties, Thompson spent two years living with them in what was an incredible meeting of two forces of nature. For those not familiar, the Angels have a deep history with San Francisco and to this day keep their national headquarters in the Dogpatch. Through Thompson's eyes and shared adventures around the Bay and California, we see a side of the Angels that doesn't match the media's villainous depiction, but doesn't quite exonerate them either.

5. Cool Gray City of Love

Cool Gray City of Love is organized as 49 distinct chapters, each dealing with a particular area/era of the city. Combining Gary Kamiya's personal anecdotes and some really well researched history, this is perhaps the most informative, big picture book on San Francisco in this list.
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