Making Sense of San Francisco 2016: David Talbot’s Season of the Witch

Wednesday August 3, 2016

Sometimes, the perfect book comes across your path at just the right time, perfectly aligned with current events (in the world or in your life) so that your entire perspective shifts, with a deeper understanding and more informed outlook.

Last month, commentators began comparing this summer to 1968: mass killings across the globe, fear of ISIS, police officer murdered in Dallas and Baton Rouge, innocent black men and boys videotaped being shot by police, in addition to a divisive and unsavory presidential election. A new generation of us finally understood that feeling of desolation and fear our parents felt in 1968, as if the actual fabric of society itself was unraveling. Although, what we don’t understand was precisely how much worse it was in 1968.

For the past month, I’ve been making my way through David Talbot’s Season of the Witch, a modern history of San Francisco, our fairly small city with an outsized reputation. In it, you finally understand how bad things got before a generation of kids said screw it and hitchhiked to San Francisco to hand out flowers and craft songs of peace and love.

Mr. Talbot is a journalist and the founder of Salon. With a magazine writer’s deft hand, he guides us through the madness of the 60s and its culmination in the Summer of Love, then on to the heroin overdoses of the early 1970s, the Zodiac Killer, the Zebra murders, Patty Hearst and the SLA, the Peoples Temple, multiple political assassinations, onto San Francisco becoming the national stage for the LGBTQ rights movement. 

It seems that San Francisco has been living through revolutions and transformations for decades; ours is nothing new. Mr. Talbot weaves history together with colorful anecdotes and intimate portraits of people who’ve come before us, bringing each era to life (I may have sighed with glee once we got to Rose Pak). He also exposes the often seedy and dark core of life and politics in San Francisco. 

If you ever wished to know San Francisco — the real San Francisco — this is the book for you.

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