Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin
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Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin (California Studies in Critical Human Geography #3)

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  167 ratings  ·  25 reviews
First published in 1999, this celebrated history of San Francisco traces the exploitation of both local and distant regions by prominent families—the Hearsts, de Youngs, Spreckelses, and others—who gained power through mining, ranching, water and energy, transportation, real estate, weapons, and the mass media. The story uncovered by Gray Brechin is one of greed and ambiti...more
Paperback, 437 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by University of California Press (first published March 8th 2001)
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Excellent left-wing analysis of urban growth. Should be interesting for urban planners, Bay Area residents, and people interested in real estate.

I found it eye-opening how a beautiful place like San Francisco was/is so closely associated with things that I generally don't want to think about: nuclear weapons, imperialism and significant exploitation of a hinterland for water, the latter of which he links to Rome's vulnerability. I also found the thesis interesting that the largest and most sust...more
Wow. Brechin does amazing work here on so many levels it's difficult to know where to begin. In one way, this book functions like a locally focused 'People's History', creating an infuriating narrative of staggering corruption & exploitation by San Francisco's elites, first of California's landscape and people, then, as the city's power & wealth accumulate, exporting this exploitation to distant shores.

In it's deep examination of 'The Pyramid of Mining', Brechin braves largely new groun...more
For those of you who think SF is that shining city by the Bay filled with liberal hipsters, think again. Grey Brechen brings this vastly wealthy metropolis' dark side out for all to witness. Simply put, Imperial San Francisco is my favorite book on California (sorry Mike Davis). Its Dick Walker meets Dashiell Hammett. I moved to the Bay Area 3 years ago, with my fancy Ivy League Ph.D. in hand, and realized that I knew nothing about the history of America's most important state. I read around alo...more
This book opens with a slightly bizarre conspiracy theory about the role of mining in history, and keeps going with a lot of implied “the rich are trying to keep us down” without much evidence. Not that the folks he’s chronicling are particularly nice folks, but that’s easy enough to prove without inventing theories that are somewhere between conspiracies and Grand Theories of History. Despite this unfortunate tendency, this book has lots of great stories and background about how the San Francis...more
Excellent, challenging polemic on the degradation of the environment around San Francisco. How SF "fed" off of its resource base. Written by a Berkeley socialist geographer. Lots of research, very informative and written at a very high level. Two chapters focus specifically on deYoung and Hearst to put a personal face on the (mis)use of resources and the manipulation of public opinion by the media (which they controlled) to sanitize their images for posterity. Biting and good. I've been interest...more
Aug 10, 2007 Elvis rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: San Franciscians!
I just started this book, andddd it's pretty absorbing.

My only commentary/criticism at this time is the strong political nature of...every sentence! I mean, everything is political, sure, but this guy reminds you on every page of the environmental destruction caused by the imperialist creation of cities.

But then...if we love cities, as the author seems to do you reconcile your love with the environmental stresses caused by a city?

Hmm...perhaps these questiojns will be answered as I p...more
Robin Havens
A must read for San Franciscians
Thomas Burchfield
Mar 26, 2012 Thomas Burchfield rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: San Francisco history buffs
"Though my WIP novel Butchertown is set in a highly fictionalized—but recognizable—East Bay city, San Francisco (also fictionalized) exerts its own tug from across the Bay reaching through the chilly fog that seeps through the entire story from beginning to end. A bigger tug than I realized, as I’ve learned from one of the books I’ve been consulting."

Read the rest of my review of this fascinating, tendentious book at:

my webpage
Robert  Baird
Not a comprehensive history of the city, but a very thorough description of the political and economic apparatus behind the region's development from the Gold Rush to the Cold War. Brechin combines something like the critical rhetoric of Mike Davis (City of Quartz) with the thoroughness of William Cronon (Nature's Metropolis). There were a number of widely-held historic simplifications that the author deconstructs, which the geek historian in me always appreciates. For 300+ pages, it was a very...more
This book promised much more than it delivered. Ultimately it became a story about wealthy people in SF as gleaned from the SF Chronicle. I had a clear sense that Brechin loved his research materials, but not a lot of confidence that he put it together in a compelling or accurate way. I'd say the highlight for me was learning about the water systems and the brutal mining techniques that were used on the sierras. There's some good material in there, but it is rather tedious on a whole. . .
I have read this book twice and refer to it still occassionally. It does exhibit liberal bias, but it is impossible to argue with the exhaustive historical evidence presented.

I like this book both as a history of San Francisco as well as an example of what drives urban development everywhere. This book really helped me to better understand urban politics and the influence cities have upon the regions around them.
James Tracy
This book is pretty great. True to the title, it explores how the ruling-class has squeezed every little bit of resources from the Bay, starting on the first day. ISF is unique in the depiction of the costs of the environment. However, very little space (if any) is given to social movements of working-class people who have tried to challenge elites. Otherwise an amazing book.
Mike Ernst
Great history of the shaping of San Francisco. It's amazing to read how the various systems that we utterly rely upon (clean water, transportation, etc.) were built through the sheer use of brute force. Fascinating history of the Hetch Hetchy system, the transition of neighborhoods in the city, and the epic newspaper tycoons battles. Great stuff.
I read this recently because I am thinking about the many military fortresses and hilltops around san francisco. Good. On a lot of bookshelves out here and referred to often. However, it is dry dry dry. More political history than social or geographic history.
Noelle Chun
May 15, 2011 Noelle Chun is currently reading it
I stumbled upon this book while I was searching for San Francisco urban history. To be honest, it doesn't quite scratch the itch—it's mostly an environmental history of the city area. Nonetheless, trying to keep giving this book a chance.
Randall Wallace
i love that this book talks about big cities being imperial. they suck
in the resources around them and their elites seek control and the
poor are shunted by the side with no advocate.

great history of san francisco.
Worth reading for anyone who spends time in SF. A side of its history that I wasn't aware of - particularly of mining and the environmental legacy of its development.
Dec 30, 2008 Ina is currently reading it
skimmed thru the last chapter including a history of the university of california and lawrence/oppenheimer's involvement there leading up to the abomb
Decent, good background to how SF got to where it is. A little overboard on the wickedness of (old time) capitalism.
Jeff Parry
One of my favorites. Open your eyes to the history of a city with the environment in context.
A good overview of local California history, including the backstory on Hetche Hetchy.
Jen Fumarolo
Definitely reads like a text book, but informative in putting SF in historical context.
Expected a more cohesive social and cultural history. I was left wanting more.
"The moral issue be damned. What we want is prosperity."
Oct 28, 2009 Alex marked it as to-read
still reading.
Matthew T. Davis
Matthew T. Davis marked it as to-read
Sep 14, 2014
Kate marked it as to-read
Sep 07, 2014
Eric Carter
Eric Carter marked it as to-read
Aug 07, 2014
Kiersten marked it as to-read
Jul 18, 2014
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