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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  4,596 ratings  ·  694 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 changed its
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Free Press (NYC)
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Jun 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Christopher Enzi
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jay Hinman
Mar 29, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
I respect the research that went into this book; I wish it hadn't been accompanied by a liberal helping of racism and sexism. Talbot feels compelled to describe the appearance of every woman who features in the narrative, often at the most absurd moments--during an explicit description of an attempted rape, he takes the time to highlight that "in middle age [the victim] was still a striking woman," while elsewhere a doctor tending to a gunshot victim is described as "straddling [him], her dress ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Most of the events occurred in the decade before I moved to San Francisco, but the effects of these upheavals were still felt and formed the structure and personality of the city I lived in for 10 years, and even that time in which I inhabited it can be looked upon with nostalgia since there has been yet another upheaval, shifting the city again. So I was glad to read this book and learn more about events that shaped the City I knew.

Talbot gives in depth accounts of the people and the forces th
Sian Lile-Pastore
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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!
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Every San Fransican needs to read this book to understand the tumult our city has endured to get where it is is today. Spectacular writing of the 60s (and before), The role of the Dead in the Haight Ashbury, the importance of music to the city, Jonestown, the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the details of the rise of so many characters in the SF landscape including Harvey Milk, Diane Feinstein, Mayors Moscone, Alioto. A romping, rough ride through the history of SF. Wonderful.
Jabiz Raisdana
I loved every page of this book and often stayed up later to get more. I am sad that it is over, because there is so much more I want to learn about my amazing city. What a place. What people. What what crazy stories in one of America's greatest cities.

Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: urbanism
Published in 2012, Talbot’s book was composed at the very moment where the particular liberal political and cultural formation the book celebrates was coming to an end — as the tech-ification of San Francisco in the 2010s displaced the old “fly your freak flag freely” political culture that emerged in the 1990s. The thesis of this book is that the cultural and political history of San Francisco in the second half of the twentieth century consisted of a drawn out battle between the old conservati ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history, 2020
Season of the Witch is all about the human interest stories of San Francisco, in that tumultuous time from 1967 to 1982. This was when Haight-Ashbury invented the hippie counter-culture, and then that brief glimpse of utopia curdled and imploded in a mass of drug addiction, racial violence, and finally a brutal political assassination.

At it's base, San Francisco was a blue collar town, run by a machine of Irish and Italian Catholics. The police force was on the take, the unions were strong, and
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
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
San Francisco is one of the great loves of my life, so there is a lot here that was engrossing and emotional for me to read. But I can't get over the lip service paid to women African Americans, Asian Americans, and the complete absence of Latinos other than once when being accused of hate crimes in the Castro. Huge swaths of the city were written out.
This book was recommended to me and the recommendation was spot-on. A solid, informative read about San Francisco, 1967-1993. Not an earth-shaking read (ha ha), but a deeply coherent one, that goes in-depth on events from the Summer of Love and attendant influx of runaways, through Altamont, The Cockettes, The Good Earth commune, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Zebra and Zodiac killers, Armistead Maupin, the People's Temple, the assassination of Joe Alioto and Harvey Milk, a ...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.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
I did not think this book was very good; I read it and finished because a friend loaned it to me thinking I would like it and kept asking me about it. Luckily it was a relatively quick read. This is a 'history of San Francisco' as told through a series of white guys, by a white guy. (For realz. Chapter after chapter, each one was a look at a different white guy. Chapter TWENTY ONE was the first one to feature a female. And the chapter was titled 'The Empress of Chinatown' for christs sake). And ...more
Bob H
Mar 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fast-moving and concise history of San Francisco -- The City -- during a vivid, terrible, and pivotal time in its history, from 1967, the time of the Summer of Love, through 1982 and the start of the AIDS epidemic, which would devastate the City. "The nonstop party that was San Francisco seemed to end overnight." Even before 1982, we read of momentous and sometimes-dreadful events: the end of the hippie era, the rise of impresario Bill Graham, the musical influence the City would have on the n ...more
Barry Sierer
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Talbot’s tales are, emotional, biased, frequently outrageous, but undeniably fascinating. He weaves together a history of a city that struggles to manage its openness to new ideas, people, and creeds, with its need to function as normally as possible.

In order to illustrate this; Talbot profiles many of San Francisco’s most notable personalities such as Herb Caine and Armistead Maupin (author of “Tales of the City”) who promulgated a version of the city that is, at least partially, an illusion, a
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Traci at The Stacks
The content of the book was great. I enjoyed the history of SF, some of the stories so familiar and some new to me. Seeing famous San Franciscans in a new context was what kept me reading the book. However I found the tone to be snarking and insulting at times. If the stories of the wild times in SF hadn’t been so great there would be little to this book for me.
Anton Miller
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful portrait of San Francisco during a time of extreme change and significance. Many winding threads connecting in unexpected places and huge revelations even to someone who has lived in the bay area almost his whole lift.

SF was full of opium dens in early 20th century
City passed laws during prohibition that stopped cops from enforcing dry laws
Irish catholic city and police were powerful, conservative factions in late 60s
City planned an extension of the freeway that demolishe
Teri Ann
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read. An historical guidebook or sketchbook of the history, art, music, and culture of SF from the 1960s-1980s. Some chapters I wish he'd extend and others shorten. We are familiar with some of the main characters, but I also learned a great deal about the City by the Bay that I didn't know. He bruised my opinion of some I admire (Moscone, etc), but made me appreciate others even more (Walsh, etc). There are excellent quotes throughout the book by the author and others--it will make yo ...more
Allan S. Manalo
May 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I love reading about the history of the City I love, especially now when the cultural fabric is unraveling due to the influx of start-up money and young millionaires who have no interest in the colorful history that made SF so wonderful. A City of inclusivity and unbridled, irreverent artists is being replaced by a homogenous, gentrified metropolis of unaffordable living and soul-less expressions.

Back to the book: There's also a very cool list of music!
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, beautifully written, captivating. I don't know if this book, with all its names and locations, would be as interesting to someone who doesn't live/hasn't lived in San Francisco, but for me it was a wonderful (and occasionally harrowing) time machine back to my childhood.
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure if this book would have resonated the same way if I weren't a longtime SF resident (and bay area native) -- the salience of every major player and place of interest really galvanized the reading experience. Though the writing skewed a little cheesy/maudlin at times, overall Talbot did a great job illuminating the details of people's everyday lives and the sociopolitical/cultural tenor of various timeframes and neighborhoods...against the backdrop of major historical events that we'v ...more
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San Francisco: "Season of the Witch" — recent San Francisco history 1 21 Dec 24, 2012 02:20PM  

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David Talbot is an American progressive journalist, author and media executive. He is the founder, former CEO and editor-in-chief, an early web magazine, Salon. Talbot founded Salon in 1995. The magazine gained a large following and broke several major national stories. It was described by Entertainment Weekly as one of the Net's "few genuine must-reads".

Since leaving Salon, Talbot has researched

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