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Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (City Atlases)

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  558 ratings  ·  87 reviews
What makes a place? Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two gorgeous color maps, each of which illuminates the city and its surroundings as experienced by different inhabit ...more
Hardcover, 166 pages
Published November 29th 2010 by University of California Press (first published October 30th 2010)
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Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith SchalanskyInfinite City by Rebecca SolnitThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootJust Kids by Patti SmithMakers by Cory Doctorow
KiwiFoo 2011 Recommendations
2nd out of 77 books — 15 voters
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Cartography: Maps
14th out of 99 books — 43 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,987)
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Nicole
I just started this book and it is amazing. The maps alone merit five stars -- modern works of art that will melt your mind. Everyone who loves San Francisco, who loves the art of the book, will love this one.
Kathleen Luschek
Infinite City is a bizarre and intriguing look at the many dimensions of San Francisco. The book is composed of 22 different maps of the city, each dealing with different phenomena specific to the city on the Bay. These range from Map 6: "Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces", to Map 16: "Death and Beauty: All of 2008's Ninety-nine Murders, Some of 2009's Monterey Cypresses." Solnit's writing is clean, thought-provoking, and complex. Several contributing writers add th ...more
g
I had high expectations for this one. But, overall: brilliantly creative conceit; uneven, at times disappointing, writing. On the physical side of things, the beautiful maps constantly fell into the no-man's-land of the gutter (not good for an "atlas"); nice trim, paper, and design, though.
Jacob
If you live in San Francisco and haven't seen this book, then you must certainly do your book shopping online. It has been everywhere for the past year – and rightly so. Combining maps and prose to show different perspectives on the Bay Area – it nicely maneuvers among the physical, historical, cultural, and contextual worlds. The atlas could easily be a museum exhibit.

The maps and stories juxtapose themes – such as shipyards and jazz/soul landmarks. While some of the combinations of stories an
...more
Haines Borough Public Library
Oct 31, 2011 Haines Borough Public Library added it
Recommends it for: Lovers of Maps, San Francisco, & Cultural History
View in catalog here: http://haines.evergreencatalog.com/op...

October 2011

Each one of us has maps inside of us. These maps make up our own personal atlas, and they include the daily routes we take, the many places (and people connected with those places) we've visited and loved, as well as the unique interests we seek out in the world in things like art museums, libraries, beaches, and mountains. In Infinite City, a wonderful reworking of the traditional atlas, Rebecca Solnit invites us to ponde
...more
Tuck
idiosyncratic maps of the bay area by master writer and thinker solnit A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland Wanderlust: A History of Walking River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West here she maps and essays things like coffee shops, murders, greenspaces, fillmore neighborhood, mission district, queers, butterflys, the old waterfront, food and superfund sites (silicon valley has the most, oops) . the maps themselves are quirky and more artistic than a "normal ...more
mike
I finished this a long time ago, so long that it's comfortably on the bookshelf rather than on the "been there, done that" pile next to the bed. I've withheld commentary on it because I haven't been sure how to fairly rate it.

Truly, this is a book for trainspotters -- what I mean by this is that it speaks to a certain kind of person for whom maps are a hobby, or for whom San Francisco politics are a hobby. It presumes a certain California coastal, blue-tinged worldview. And for me, the target au
...more
Martin Kohout
No doubt it helps being a native of San Francisco, but I loved this. A brilliantly imaginative way of thinking about the physical city. The real stars of the show here are the maps, which layer and juxtapose unexpected sets of data: butterfly habitats and queer landmarks, for example, or sites from early motion picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge's life and locations of Hitchock's Vertigo, or toxic waste sites and gourmet food destinations. Very cool.
G-phy
This was such a delightful read. The maps were gorgeous and well-themed, e.g. "Poison / Palate," a map of the toxic waste of the bay area with the culinary hot spots. I expected to like the maps, but having never read Solnit before I didn't expect the beauty of her prose. When reading her introduction, specifically her writing about maps, I was impressed by the transcendence of her writing and her understanding of what a map is and what a map can't be. I would have loved this book anyway, but wh ...more
Gina
Maybe it has been too long since I've tried to use a paper atlas, but this book's maps seemed disjointed, cluttered, even forced. The writing was all over the place, often hard to follow. I also found that the subjects covered were very interesting, but I felt the format was often inappropriate and left me unsatisfied, even confused and searching. Disappointing overall.
John
I just hate San Francisco too much as a place. I couldn't turn the corner to where I could disconnect myself from this fact. The book just seems to feed into the city's ego. I know "The City" aims to be a world class city on par with great cities everywhere, but really it just doesn't have the dimensions of a Los Angeles or even an Atlanta, so for me, I guess I just didn't need this book, just like I didn't need all those parking tickets in the Haight.
Lucia
Aug 28, 2011 Lucia added it
Shelves: yay-maps, unfinished
This seems like a great book. But not for me at this time in my life.
I'm not able to read much, and I got this to look at pretty maps. There's not that many maps, and there's walls and walls of text. It looks like interesting text, but my brain can't handle it right now.

This would be a great gift for someone who loves San Francisco: the history, the diversity, the micro-cultures, atlases, and of course maps.
Jeff
Beautiful collection of maps and essays, but undercut by the trivial presentation of most of the entries. There are three really amazing stories told in this book, on salmon and buddhism, migrants and gangs, postwar southern diaspora culture. They stand out from the rest and really show what places can do and mean to people. The rest are content to say, here's some geographic history, now isn't that interesting?

Solnit and her guests share Geoff Manaugh's troubling talent of hyper-referentiality.
...more
Elina Bravve
This is the coolest book I have come across in a long time, well deserving of a detailed review. It's a collection of maps created by different artists and cartographers, focusing on different aspects of San Francisco history and lore.. It reads a bit like a travelogue, but more like an extended and diverse cultural commentary. It also contains some of the most interesting meditations on urbanism and the meaning of maps in our culture that I have come across.

One chapter highlights a map of cinem
...more
Paula
I'd give this beautiful-to-look-at and fascinating-to-read homage to and excavation of the city of San Francisco more stars if that were possible. As a resident of the City by the Bay (transplanted from Wisconsin post Summer of Love) for much of 8 years (with time off for world travels)and having lived 50 miles north of the city ever since, SF has been the metro hub of my adult life. The title of the book is well chosen, since there are even more maps of the city that can be imagined than have b ...more
Susan Eubank
A wonderful visit to one of my former cities...

"My wanderings open my eyes to undiluted poverty in the Mission. Poverty is a calamity, a blight upon the land. That's 'the Struggle' that the Mission kids and gang kids talk about, and it's from that experience that their pride about their heritage arises. Their parents are the day laborers, and the migrants, and the second-class citizens. There is no border here. In this country, immigrants and their children pass through a trial by fire of assim
...more
Jlawrence
Solnit's book illustrates how there are an infinite number of ways of viewing any city's current state and its history (eg personal history of its inhabitants, economic forces, political movements, cultural delights and nadirs, ecosystems, etc etc). The book is a collection of original, full-color maps of San Francisco or the Bay Area highlighting such specifics, each map accompanied by a short essay (many by Solnit with a handful of other contributors). The maps are excellently done, and most o ...more
blue-collar mind
I have 3 types of favorite writers. I read loads of others but I don't seek them out. These I do, checking their names on Powells Books online or eBay or dusty shelves regularly to see if I can find THAT book or just any more.

Here are the three, in no real order:
1. Their style of writing is pleasing to my eye, to my ear and to a calm, restorative thought process. They take an idea or a person and patiently, clearly show it with words and I learn. People say to me after I explain one of their ide
...more
Shoshi
The book drew me in with its artwork and promise of new visions of the familiar. The art - the maps and other illustrations - are all lovely and well placed given the text either selected by or written by Ms. Solnit.
The work fails, at least for me, by attempting to infuse too much meaning, or too much feeling into an event/place. This was bluntly true with the essay on evictions in the Tenderloin and the "what happened to al the black folks" essays/maps.
The trouble is how Ms. Solnit accepts/sp
...more
Brian
A wonderful companion to Los Angeles in Maps; I met the authors of both books at this year's LA Times Festival of Books. This book, like the city it describes, is much more fanciful than the Los Angeles volume. These maps were all custom-created for this book, so there's a wonderful unity of design here. The maps are confrontational in what they choose to depict. In "The Right Wing of the Dove," S.F is shown to be a central hub of the machinery of death and war. In another map, 500 "Ellis Act" e ...more
Jeff
"Infinite City: a San Francisco Atlas" by Rebecca Solnit, 2010. "Infinite City" is an exercise in cartographic art, juxtaposing seemingly unrelated data in vibrant, creative ways. Notorious queer bars of past and present are mapped along with endangered butterflies. There is a map of toxic waste sites contrasted with vineyards and food source locations. There are maps of women. There are maps of blacks. Solnit's writing is immensely entertaining. It is also pretentious, almost haughty, which con ...more
Debs
4 stars for presentation, 3.5 for enjoyment. What a fascinating project! The maps & essays in this collection brought to life for me a city and an area with which I have only the barest of familiarity. As an outsider, I didn't feel the same connection to the material that a true San Francisco native would probably feel, but I certainly learned a bit about the history of the area and its inhabitants. Each map is unique but they all help paint a colorful and informative picture of a particular ...more
James
This is a delicious book. It’s an artistic and historical atlas, with essays by Solnit and other authors, all focused on San Francisco and the different layers of people, culture, and history that exist in this city. Each essay is paired with a map–some of which are carefully detailed, some more artistically interpreted. Since I’m pretty attached to San Francisco and I’m a sucker for imaginative maps, this was a lot of fun to flip through. The highlights for me included a map of coffeehouses (ne ...more
Elese
Loved it, although some essays and maps succeeded more than others. All of the essays written by Solnit herself were brilliant.

Map highlights: The Names before the Names: Indigenous Bay Area, 1769 and Graveyard Shift: The Lost industrial City of 1960 and the Remnant 6 AM Bars.

Favorite essays: Little Pieces of Many Wars (a chronicle of Fillmore St.) and Piled Up, Scraped Away (about South of Market before redevelopment in the '70s).
Justin Sorbara-Hosker
A very special object that belongs on the (tall) shelf of every San Franciscan, or lover of that city. I am a tourist there, but Solnit & her co-contributors highlight the reasons that its one of my favourite cities, the place I got married - its myriad idiosyncrasies, living contradictions, its history and its beauty.

Win-win for SF lovers & map nerds (& win-win-win for SF lovers, map nerds, & lefties), this is a lovely piece of design that is entirely appropriate for its subjec
...more
Lorinda
Every few years I read a book that shows me a way forward. This is such a book. Even though the maps here are idiosyncratic and full of detail, they offer a way in for almost any reader. Each person will develop favorites: my current one is Number 16 Death and Beauty. A place - any place - is seen to be inexhaustible. Solnit's philosophy and motivation in writing this book is valuable and clearly stated. Some of the maps have better graphics than others. The format allows the book to be easily h ...more
Badger
Rather disappointing. On one hand, the maps, layout, and graphics are a solid 5, but the writing is closer to a 2. I just found the essays really boring; surprisingly so given the quality of the rest of the package and the subjects covered.

The 'Third Street Phantom Coast' map is really interesting, but the 15 lines written about say almost nothing. Seems like pages could be written about it.

So, get it for the art, but don't expect much in the reading department. Actually, I don't think I made t
...more
Ajk
It's a good book about a city that tells you enough about a city to make you feel like you get it, but leave you wanting to find out much, much, more.

Semi-serious cartography is pretty much right in my wheelhouse anyways. But the 20some maps in Infinite City serve as two dozen lenses through which to see the city. I'm still new here, and still figuring out my lens.

So it's nice to have a few backups until I figure it out. And it's probably the most honest look at this city I've found: Pretty cool
...more
Arianna
I read this book as an assignment for my college english class and found this book to be very boring from the beginning. I tried to read the book thoroughly, but as I read the first page I became very bored and then just started skimming when I got to the next page. I do not recommnend this book to people who are NOT into non-fiction and cannot stand history. I also do NOT recommned this to people who would not like to read a whole chapter, that is practically 6 pages long, on names.
Ariel
I really appreciated the thoughtfulness behind the maps in the atlas, particularly those detailing the mission district, the indigenous past, and women's leadership roles in the Bay's environmental movements.
I love Solnit's writing, and the way she muses on the individual maps, updating and outdated, that live layered in every person. I was glad to see her contribute so many essays to this atlas of hers, compared to New Orleans. Perhaps because of that, I felt the New Orleans atlas offered more
...more
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Fans of Maps: infinite city 3 8 Sep 15, 2014 06:57PM  
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Rebecca Solnit (b. 1961) is the author of numerous books, including Hope in the Dark, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. In 2003, she received the prestigious Lannan Literary Award.
More about Rebecca Solnit...

Other Books in the Series

City Atlases (2 books)
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Men Explain Things to Me A Field Guide to Getting Lost The Faraway Nearby Wanderlust: A History of Walking River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West

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