Feb 25 2005

Imperial San Francisco

Published by at 9:36 pm 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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