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Snap judgments - David Talbot:Season of the Witch

Most San Franciscans already have at least a passing familiarity with the history of our famously liberal politics. But David Talbot's new book delves to impressive depths in tracing the city's transformation from parochial backwater to countercultural beacon. Beginning his story in the 1930s, but paying particuliar attention to the '60s and '70s, the Salon founder and CEO deftly sketches portraits of hippies, politicos, and rights activists who forged our "San Francisco values," and in the process rescues some old icons from obscurity (Edward Beggs, founder of the teen shelter Huckleberry House) and others from flower-child caricature (both the Diggers and the Good Earthers were apparently more steel than silk). Though his prose occassionally overheats ("San Francisco sleepwalked under a dark canopy of clouds that seems like it would never lift"), Talbot's rendition of city history is a compulsively entertaining page-turner. He also performs a great service in reminding us that our current city didn't spring to life fully formed. It went through hell - from Zebra murders to Jonestown to the AIDS epidemic - to arrive at its present state, where we argue over development and a Happy Meal ban but generally agree on basic rights. Talbot writes, "San Francisco values did not come into the world with flowers in their hair; they were born howling, in blood and strife." A useful lesson for our Occupied times: Change is hard, but it's possible.

 

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