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Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,506 ratings  ·  336 reviews
In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph.

Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Free Press (NYC)
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The Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckCannery Row by John SteinbeckThe Day of the Locust by Nathanael WestThe Joy Luck Club by Amy TanThe Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson
Best California Books
19th out of 134 books — 119 voters
Season of the Witch by David TalbotThe Barbary Coast by Herbert AsburyImperial San Francisco by Gray BrechinA Short History of San Francisco by Tom  ColeOur Better Nature by Philip J. Dreyfus
San Francisco History (Nonfiction)
1st out of 6 books — 5 voters

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Community Reviews

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I was excited to read this book about the history of San Francisco-focusing in on the period between 1967-1982. I grew up in the city during this time and was curious to see what Talbot would have to say about the era.
While I appreciated the writing and personal narratives from famous San Francisco characters (oh how I miss Herb Caen!), I found the book to be pretty narrow in it's scope-Basically, its white scope.
While Talbot plays lip service to the African-American community in the Filmore and
Christopher Enzi
WOW! This dazzling page turner tells much of the history of San Francisco during the time I've lived here. From 1966 in the ramp up to the Summer of Love through the Big Gay Immigration boom which brought me here in 1976 through drugs, politics, sex, cults, murders and scandals, this book gets to the heart of the matter.
When people hear that I lived here in the 1970s, before AIDS was on anyone's radar, their ears prick up as though they were about to hear a dirty joke. Sure, there were orgies an
Apr 27, 2013 Richard rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Richard by:
This is a sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes ecstatic narrative of the dramatic era that brought San Francisco through some incredible times and changes.

I can't say it any better than this review: San Francisco’s Darkest Hours: The founder of Salon takes a fascinating tour of the Golden Gate City, 1967–82.

If you love San Francisco — or you're interested in rock 'n' roll, gay history, traumatic 70s racial politics, or even the 49ers football team, you'll probably find this book riveting.

Mal Warwick
It’s difficult to imagine any city in North America that has experienced such a short and intense period of tumult and terror as did San Francisco from the mid-60s to the early 1980s.

The Summer of Love. The racist Zebra killings. The People’s Temple mass suicide. The assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. The onset of the AIDS epidemic. And the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis — oh, the music!

You can’t make this stuff up.

For those of us who lived through this era in and
Sian Lile-Pastore
lordy, this was bleak. it's about san francisco from the late 60s to the early 80s, so i was prepared for the murder of Moscone and Milk and the rise of AIDS, but I was not prepared for zebra killers, jim jones, patty hearst and all the deaths from hard drugs. I was relieved when i got to a couple of chapters on american football which i didn't really understand or care about, but was light relief from everything else. I was not looking forward to reading about AIDS either, but actually, it was ...more
It wasn't always peace and love in San Francisco. Or actually - ever. The hot second of 'gentle people with flowers in their hair' quickly gave way to a myriad of social misery - overdoses, VD, abandoned children, racism, AIDS, murder, manslaughter, etc. The problem was the myth we sang about far outlasted the reality we experienced - I had completely forgotten about the connection between the Jim Jones' mass murders and the Moscone-Milk murders a week later, for example. The book reminds us of ...more
I always enjoy learning about San Francisco history. There are a lot of colorful characters here, and it's fun to spend some time with their stories. I delight in picturing what happened in the places I walk by all the time and discovering that some name on a building connotes a lot more than might immediately be obvious. (Did you know Bill Graham—of Bill Graham Auditorium—walked his way out of Europe following the Holocaust? Neither did I!) It gives the city an intimate feeling, which I really ...more
Justin Sorbara-Hosker
Won’t blow you away with style, but well put together and researched. The amount of story in the subject he has chosen (and the time span he chose to cover) makes it surprising that this came in under 500 pages at all – which may be why he left out Zodiac, & the ’89 earthquake. Hippies, Patty Hearst, drugs, bikers, Altamont, racial tension, Jonestown, birth of gay rights, murder, politics - and more. Solid reporting and storytelling; probably essential reading for fans of this city.

Worth the read for the panoramic and general tour of San Francisco's history, from 1930-1989, Talbot introduces a cornucopia of cast members against the ever abused imaginary stage of San Francisco's past.

Despite his floundering attempts to add depth to his ever expanding cast of characters, Talbots writing is a lesson in binarism and blindness. But even as cliche-filled, linguistically stunted and intellectually-numbing as Season of the Witch is, I had a hard time putting it down for its Da Vin
Jay Hinman
It was with much anticipation and excitement that I started former editor David Talbot's 60s-70s-80s history of San Francisco, "SEASON OF THE WITCH", and with much disappointment and disgust that I slammed it down thirteen chapters later. No, I did not finish the book. I'd never get those hours back, and alas, neither will I get back the four or so hours I invested in those 13 chapters. I believe that I can successfully and accurately review the book anyway, and hopefully talk you out ...more
Dante is often quoted (I paraphrase) as finding heaven the hardest to write of all the sections of his Divine Comedy. I wonder if the writer Talbot had similar difficulties on certain sections of this exuberant popular history of one of my favorite cities, San Francisco during the sixties and seventies. His writing about the utopian early hippie days and an attempt at redemption in an effective stint at mayor by Diane Feinstein and a good 49ers season (I did find the section on the city’s respon ...more
Thank you to my friend Terri Pilate for recommending this extremely engaging and brilliantly told non-fiction book about a short few decades of San Francisco history. It's a period between the 60's and 80's and one I thought I knew very well--having lived in the SF Bay Area for most of that time. I actually learned quite a lot I didn't know, and was able to understand that period of my life a whole lot better. If you remember Moscone, Milk, Bil Graham, Herb Cain, Patty Hearst, Janis Joplin, the ...more
One of the greatest history accounts I have read on the turbulent past of SF in the mid to late 20th century. Recommended to all those fascinated with the city of San Francisco. A great history of the key players who aided in developing the liberal nature of the city, it's culture of acceptance, and the model it served for the rest of the world. Loved!
Grew up in The City, came of age in the Hashbury in the 50'6 and 60's, moved out in '68 and never looked back. Missed all of this that Talbot captures so deliciously that it is as though I never left. Recommended reading for all of you who lived through it and for all of you who think you know what really went on during those years. Until you read this concise, thorough, and awe full recollection of the 20 years from '67 through '87, you'll remain in the dark, hitting a magnum doobie and being c ...more
Barksdale Penick
This book summarizes the history of San Francisco from the early 1960s up to 1981, when the 49ers won the Superbowl, which might seem like an odd place to end a survey but it fits with the theme of a city struggling with change and having the football team as a rallying point. But from my perspective, it is the perfect time to end since I started my 7 years in San Francisco in 1981. It is astonishing to read about the Zebra murders and Altamont and the Dan White murders. I doubt this would be of ...more
Season of the Witch is an engaging, interesting overview of San Francisco during two very turbulent decades. David Talbot takes readers through twenty years of history in a city that’s undergone massive change and social turmoil, highlighting the lives of the city’s most colorful inhabitants. The chapters are short - great for commuting - and vary from stories about criminal cases, like the Zebra Murders, to the rise of the Cockettes.

I really vacillated between three and four stars on this one.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in San Francisco and California history, or anyone who lived through the 60's and 70's and considered themselves part of that generation of cultural and political rebels. I grew up in the SF Bay Area and was 13 years old in the summer of 1968. I went to the Haight Ashbury with a group of girlfriends, chaperoned by my father, who waited nearby. We thought we were so cool in our baggy jeans and tie dye shirts, but also felt the dangerous, down and ...more
This is not an ordinary history of San Francisco. It makes the years beginning with the 1960's Summer of Love through the 1980's AIDS epidemic come alive. San Francisco, long known as a bastion of personal freedom, also has a more traditional side that holds conservative values. At times, the blue collar police and fire fighters, religious catholics, and those repulsed by too much freedom held political power. They are a strange contrast to the drag queens and bizarre characters who parade in th ...more
Ray Campbell
Realy, realy, realy good! Talbot takes the reader from the summer of love through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s covering everything from the Grateful Dead to the murder of Harvey Milk. The book shows that while songs and popular culture accounts romanticize the "City of Love", the reality of modern San Fransisco is the result of cultural, political and social revolution. Interestingly, Talbot refers to the book as a love letter to the city before launching into the dark side - the murder, mayhe ...more
Talbot produces a fairly convincing argument in his book that San Francisco's tumultuous modern history, starting from the 1920s through the 1980s, was the result of a continual clash of two forces--the conservative, predominately immigrant Irish and Italian Catholic communities that worked its way into city government and the police, and those that felt oppressed by their values or network, whether that be the youth, ethnic or gay communities--and that their result paved the way for a more incl ...more
Mar 09, 2013 Spiros rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All San Franciscans
"...It seems a lifetime, or at least a Main Era - the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run...but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of the world. Whatever it meant...
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or
I wasn't planning to read this, but when my friend Eileen lent it to me and let me know that the first chapter was all about the family of a dear friend of mine (the late Vivian Hallinan), I decided to have a look -- and I am so glad I did. In a fast-paced reportorial style, David Talbot takes you through some of the most frightening events in San Francisco history -- the descent of the Summer of Love into drugs and mayhem in the Haight, Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre, the assassination of ...more
It helps if you are old enough to remember the Summer of Love. Even better if you can recite Ginsberg's "Howl". Since I qualify for both, this book was absolutely stunning. This is a brief but riveting history of San Francisco between 1967 and 1982. No doubt you'll have heard something about many of the news stories but, unless you lived there or followed SF news meticulously, you won't understand the context. I kept finding myself surprised by how all the seemingly separate events were actually ...more
Suellen Darblay
I loved this book! It was an incredible compilation of historical information about people and events in San Francisco during the 1960's and 70's. It was a bit slow out of the gate, but before long I was anxious to hurry up and finish it so I could read it again! The vastness of the topics covered and the depth of research was quite impressive. I learned so much about San Francisco, the people, the culture, the politics, etc. An absolute must read for just about anybody who's ever even heard of ...more
This is an outstanding book. It takes you far beyond Herb Caen's three dot journalism and Armistead Maupin's Tales (although both of those authors are worthy studies). The vibrancy of San Francisco, its eccentricity and colorful weirdos are all laid out here in compelling portraits and anecdotes. After tracing the old leftist heritage of the City by the Bay, the book focuses on the period between the Summer of Love in the Sixties, up through the Hearst kidnapping, the Moscone/Milk murdrs, the Jo ...more
There are lots of interesting facts about the city, and the first section really inspires you and reminds me the multiple ways why I love San Francisco. The second section is a bit ghastly, but interesting to read about. I do feel it is written to be very flashy and glitzy, rather than substantive and analytical about why things happened the way they did or presented the complexities of the different issues. It is not a journal article, I know, but it could have been a bit more nuanced. I am sur ...more
Terri Pilate
Wow! Now I know why I have always found San Francisco enchanting. So interesting! I learned so many things about a period of time I thought I was already familiar with but now know that I knew nothing! Did you know the summer of love turned from love & flowers to darkness & heroin? Simplistic but interesting to think about. I think the same cycle occurred in Austin but Cocaine stood in for heroin.

Interesting thing the memory. I didn't realize that the Jim Jones mass murder occurred with
The author, founder of, is a good writer. He knows how to set up a drama, draw a character, and tell a story. He also has good material: San Francisco of the 60s and 70s. The description of the Rolling Stones at Altamont stood out: people (entertainers) having to deal with reality.

However, I am tired of the baby boomer attitude (explicit or implicit) that the "summer of love" is the most important event in the history of the universe, and the coast-dwelling attitude that only San Franc
We lived it and we’re still here. A fascinating history of a city torn by violence and plague that somehow comes out of it all stronger. San Francisco’s story from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, this book delves into the darker corners of our collective psyche. Though I was here for it, this book puts it all together and provides details I was unaware of prior to reading it. From the rise of a unique musical scene to the glimmerings of an insidious disease that would decimate the population, ...more
Just finished this captivating book about San Francisco history from 1967-1982 (but it actually starts before 1967 with historical references and stories from the 50's and early 60's). The very well-written and well-researched histories include Hallinans and Aliotos, Herb Caen, Bill Graham, the "Summer of Love," Patty Hearst & the SLA, Black Panthers, Jim Jones, George Moscone, Harvey Milk, Dianne Feinstein, the AIDS epidemic, the SF 49ers. A fascinating read, especially for those who lived ...more
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“Sister Boom Boom—a half-Catholic, half-Jewish drag queen named Jack Fertig, who wore a whore’s makeup and a nun’s habit and vamped it up with the other political pranksters in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence—was an especially aggravating thorn in Feinstein’s side. Boom Boom ran a remarkably aggressive campaign against Feinstein during her 1983 reelection bid, under the slogan “Nun of the Above,” eventually winning twenty-three thousand votes.” 0 likes
“Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch,” Boom Boom replied, taking the opportunity to pin a “Dump Dianne” campaign pin on her blouse as news photographers’ snapped away.” 0 likes
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