Archive for February, 2005

Feb 25 2005

Imperial San Francisco

Published by under Books

by Gray Brechin. (BTW, what is this given name of Gray and California? First Gray Davis now Gray Brechin. I’ll see if the next book, called the Language of Names, explains all about Gray). Back to “Imperial San Francisco” which is a super read! It came from a Dissertation at UC Berkeley and provides a good overview of the early “movers and shakers” in SF. A history of the city, how it came to be what it is, its scandals, projects, and its pretentions to Empire in the years up to WWII plus ten or so years.
The emphasis is on the early years 1845 to 1910 or so with a lighter overview of early 20th century. Compendium of the dynastires, how and why they gained influence and most of all the deeds they did with an emphasis on the “long tails” of nasty consequences to be paid for or endured by others and other generations. Starting with the grand daddy of insults to the land – mining – and ending with probably the worst insult – nuclear weapons.
Very well documented and footnoted with a long bibliography. Despite that academic detail, the book tells the story clearly and readably. But, not sympathetically to the main characters who appear in the narrative. The author clearly thinks most of them were “robber barons” of the worst sort who got away with murder (mostly metaphoical murder).
The last chapter is covers the development of UC Berkeley and seems to give it too much pride of place in the bigger story but that’s where the original dissertation was done. Berkeley does provide the spring board for getting into the nuclear energy story as much of the early physics was done there though that story is much bigger than San Francisco.

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Feb 16 2005

Five Cities

Published by under General

I just started reading a book called Imperial San Francisco which got me thinking about the six major cities which have been main factors in my life. First Chicago where I was born, raised, and educated through high school. Public high school at that. Then a college period split between rural Indiana and Chicago, but Chicago was still the main factor. Self conscious and aspiring Chicago. Graduate school took me to Pittsburgh Pa for four years. A cruder and somehow less self conscious place. Whereas Chicago always chaffed at being number 2 to New York, Pittsburgh was less and didn’t care.
After Pittsburh, it was on to a brief interlude in a suburb of New York City, but not really New York and temporary. Then on to the big time. London England and then Rome Italy. Two different and justly impressive cities. London was majestic, but a bit shabby. Getting over the King’s Road period but still trying to understand and come to terms with its role in the world. No longer the major imperial power it once was. Rome was just Rome; dirty, chaotic, beautiful, impressive, charming and frustrating. Seemingly satisfied, but less understood by me since my Italian was limited.
Then back to NYC area for an extended period (30 years!). Domiciled in NJ but dominated by NYC. The king. Biggest shot in the country. Most of everything. Noisy and aggressive. Everything was there. And now, to retirement in mid San Francisco. Inner city. So far, the most charming and tasty of them all. Rome was close in the charm category and maybe even better, but I was too busy working to really appreciate it as I “should have done”.

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Feb 15 2005

San Francisco Horror (1906)

Published by under Books

The complete title is “Sand Francisco Horror of Earthquake and Fire” by James Russel Wilson the “the well known author”. This is a collection of descriptions of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 which was published in the same year as the quake. It is a compendium of, repetitious, first and second hand accounts of the great quake that leveled much of San Francisco. A crass summary might be a “quite a jolt and then a really big fire”. Interesting in its details of what a big quake does and looks like as its happening, and for its details of 1906 society (wildly supportive of shooting burglers “on sight”.
The last third of the book is a telling of 1906 beliefs and theories of the causes of earthquakes and volcanoes; an obsolete geology.
A good book to skim and dip into occasionally. Especially if you have no idea what a big quake can do. Timely given the recent Tsunami following a 9.0 quake. Scary to speculate what will happen when the earth moves again.

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