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Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,646 ratings  ·  205 reviews
Cool, Gray City of Love brings together an exuberant combination of personal insight, deeply researched history, in-depth reporting, and lyrical prose to create an unparalleled portrait of San Francisco. Each of its 49 chapters explores a specific site or intersection in the city, from the mighty Golden Gate Bridge to the raunchy Tenderloin to the soaring sea cliffs at Lan ...more
Hardcover, 385 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Bloomsbury USA
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Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bay-area, history
Living in a city can be done in two ways; first, you can merely co-habitate with it. Sure, the city is part of your address and you can find the nearest grocery store, but that's about it. The other way? You don't just live in a city — you live in that city's community. Which way do you live in your city?

From the very first pages, Kamiya's love for the community of San Francisco sets the tone. San Francisco isn't just where he lives, it's an important part of who he is. As described in the intro
Michelle Welch
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I probably wouldn't have loved this book as much if I hadn't picked it up shortly before leaving on a trip to San Francisco. I didn't finish it before going, and only saw a fraction of the sites discussed. But the book gives such a wonderful view of the city - its neighborhoods, its history, even its geology - that I feel I now know it much better than I do.

The other thing that appealed to me so much was the author's literary bent. As a reformed English Lit snob, I'm all over this book's structu
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Anybody who has talked to me about books in the last few weeks has heard me rave about "Cool Gray City of Love." This book has everything I've wanted from a San Francisco book in the last year. It's chock full of fascinating historical tidbits. It's also a veritable walking tour of the city. In fact, that's Kamiya's main conceit here. He set out to walk the whole city and write about his experience. Mission accomplished!

I try to avoid marring my books, but I couldn't resist dog-earring this one
Amar Pai
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Five stars if you love SF

This guy is a kindred spirit!

I related to a LOT of this book, esp. secret stair ways, the mania for covering every square inch of the city, the appreciations of its myriad beautiful spots and romantic infatuation w/ the city as a whole. He has the cojones to claim Land's End is the best urban walk in the world. I call it 2nd best in SF! (First is Philosopher's Way in McClaran. But agree Land's End is sublime)

illustration from sf cool gray city of love, chapter 27. kamiy
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
The author is a Bay Area native, and knows a lot about the city's history. His writing style is friendly inviting, whether he is telling us about the racism experienced by Blacks, Asians, and the natives that first inhabited the area, or parallel descriptions of the 1906 earthquake and his experience living through the 1989 quake. Recommended for anyone who enjoys history or who loves San Francisco.
Steve Sarner
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I could not put this book down yet it took me “forever” to read. Sound counterintuitive? Read on to see why.

First, I must disclose that I love this cool gray city so I am naturally biased about Cool Gray City of Love.

As soon as I saw the title I knew it was going to be about San Francisco. Then I saw it was, appropriately, 49 stories (views) by Gary Kamiya, co-founder of

That sealed the deal for me – it was a must read.

Second, I really enjoy history and particular history of great citi
Kasa Cotugno
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. This book could only have been written by someone who has had a lifelong love of the place, enough to research in depth its geological and human pasts, and write about it so eloquently. Myself, I lived in the City for 10 years, during which time I walked many of its streets, appreciating the variations in architecture and mood provided by each neighborhood. Kamiya's chapter on the two earthquakes (1906 and 1989) was beautifully handled - everyone who was there has their own story (I w ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot from this book, but I definitely did not love it. Here's why:

1. Gary Kamiya relies too heavily on external, unrelated references to describe atmosphere. I feel I missed much of the mood of the book because of this.
2. Kamiya is good at the overarching, big-picture world view insightful conclusions we learned to do after every essay in high school. They're really beautiful individually, but as he does this at the conclusion of every one of his 49 chapters, it gets to be too much.
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who treasures the City
Shelves: new, california
A lovely valentine to the City, from the natural grandeur and isolation of the Farallones to the artifice of George's Log Cabin, which straddled the County line and was thus able to serve alcohol after 2:00AM, on the Burlingame side of the establishment. Kamiya explores the City's geography, nature, climates, prehistory, history, and current social issues, all in an intensely personal voice. This book feels like what Peter Ackroyd has been doing with his series of histories of an infinitely vast ...more
Sarah Dubel
Nov 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Do you think you love San Francisco? Reading Cool Gray City of Love will make you will fall in love with this enchanting city even more. This is a real treat of a book. The writing teases you to engulf every last word in one sitting, yet to do so would be to cheat yourself of its literary excellence. The prose is lyrical and playful, honest, and yet mildly mysterious—you can only imagine what he will say or where he will go next.

Cool Gray City of Love has a bit of something for everyone. Anyone
Jul 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
To paraphrase a clever criticism, As a writer, Gary would make a good cab driver.
I knew in the first paragraph that I couldn't read this book. The third sentence had six modifiers, as did the fourth. The fifth had ten!
Michael Krasny's jacket blurb comparing him to Herb Caen is the finest example of the art of the blurb!

Following the classic creative writing directive to write what you know, Kamiya did that and the result seems mixed. I read 6 chapters. Some I found interesting. I liked The Haun
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
After 24 years of living in SF, I am still smitten with the city, so its great to read a book by someone who is equally smitten, especially by someone from the Bay Area. There is lots of history that I either didn't know, had forgotten or had heard a different angle on. Lots of us could write 49 chapters on SF - kudos to Gary Kamiya who actually did it.
David Sasaki
Apr 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Call it historical schadenfreude: I’ve been greatly comforted over the past couple of months by reading historical accounts of just how much worse things used to be a century or two ago. Take the 1906 San Francisco earthquake as an example. I already knew that it destroyed 80% of the city and killed around 3,000 people, but I had no idea that up to 500 of those deaths were caused by soldiers shooting unarmed residents during an anti-looting order that put the whole city on curfew, even as buildi

Potluck Mittal
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An all-time favorite for me!

Kamiya's style is fun and engaging; I deeply enjoyed the mix of history, culture, geography, and geology. I haven't had much exposure to SF history before, so I learned a lot. Definitely expect to revisit parts of this one again some day.
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, travel, nonfiction
I've been reading this book off and on for a few months, mostly on BART rides. Each chapter is essentially a standalone essay about a corner of San Francisco, which makes for ideal subway reading. The topics of the chapters and the history they cover are wide-ranging, from an overview of the Pleistocene forces that shaped the landscape to an ode to a specific neighborhood Kamiya once lived in. I've learned a lot of very interesting tidbits about San Francisco (and not only - Kamiya is clearly ve ...more
Alia S
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it
The first problem I had with this book was that its title/sub combination caused me to keep referring to it as "50 Shades of Gray" (...). The second problem was the writing, which suffers from a bad case of unnecessary analogies: Kamiya will spend several paragraphs transporting you into the Pleistocene and then abruptly snap you out of it by comparing something to a Midwestern bowling ally on a Saturday night. It's kind of annoying. And for my taste the attempts at one neat little conclusion pe ...more
I bought this book a couple days before I left San Francisco two weeks ago, but I wish I had read it beforehand. This is a marvelous introduction to the city, written by a journalist who has some good chops for telling history and discussing everything from politics to history to geology and beyond. If you're planning a trip to San Fran anytime soon, pick this up as an unusual guidebook. I know I'll be returning to SF some day with this book in tow.
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
An amazing collection of glimpses into the history of San Francisco. I read this to prepare for my first real trip to the city and it was a wonderful introduction. I wish this type of book existed for other major cities!
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Picked this book up before our first trip to San Francisco last November. I thought it would give me more insight into the city and its history, culture and people. It did. I liked the author's idea of walking each of the city's neighborhoods and exploring connections to the past and to his own life. I love discovering a city by setting out on foot, so I thought this might give me a few ideas of walks to take during our trip as well.
The walk that I most enjoyed that came from this book was the F
Kyle Boehm
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally finished- loved the matter of fact way the author spoke about the city, the good, but especially the bad. For every negative article about SF I read going forward, I’ll remember this quote:

“Still, anyone who isn’t concerned about San Francisco’s future is not paying attention. Some unique combinations of class and politics and ethnicity and geography and history and a dozen other ingredients have gone into make it the place that it is. Some of those ingredients have changed, and some of
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a native of San Francisco, this book is a love story to the past,present and future. As a child growing up in the city I had forgotten what is was like to explore this place of magic.
Joe Angiulo
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not a lot of new material here for serious students of SF history, but Kamiya's personal insights and thorough exploration of the city are worthwhile. This would be a fine introduction to the span and depth of local history; his bibliography is quite good, and will be influencing my own reading list for quite a while! An excellent companion piece to his erstwhile colleague's "Season of the With."
Susie Chocolate
Jan 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book took me about 6 weeks to read, which for me, is a VERY long time but I did not drag this book out because I found it dull, it is just that it lends itself perfectly to being read along with another book, because the book is split up into 49 short chapters. The subtitle of the book is "49 views of San Francisco" and so the author has dedicated a short chapter to a small section of San Francisco. He then delves into the history of each area he is discussing, going back sometimes several ...more

San Francisco. No other place on Earth moves me quite the way it does. The way the fog curls silently around Sutro Tower as it slowly engulfs the city. The red of the Golden Gate Bridge against the Martian tan of the Marin headlands. The way the fickle weather constantly changes - from hour to hour, district to district. The ravings of a harmless lunatic as he stumbles along Market Street. The sleepy afternoons in Japantown. The endless milling crowds at Powell and Fishermans Wharf. The invigora
Mark Field
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the closing paragraph Kamiya writes "I have spent much of my life exploring San Francisco. But perhaps it is better not to see everything." It sums up what he set out to achieve in this book, it is a highly personal and intimate portrait of his city from his perspective. He covers every inch of the city and its neighborhoods, but the stories he tells are selective, they are his personal reflections and memories and what he regards as important. It is a wonderful book, an allegory of memory an ...more
Christopher Newton
For a native San Franciscan such as myself, pure delight. Gary Kamiya wanders through the City starting about 12,000 years ago when mastodons and sabre tooths were scrimmaging on the sand dunes, on through the native Americans and the Spanish Presidio, the Californio ranchos and the Sidney Ducks, blue collar WWII San Francisco, Beatnik San Francisco, Hippie San Francisco, the Castro during the AIDS epidemic, the earthquakes ('08 and '89) -- just a delight of a read in all its immensity.
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-story, history, sf
Not a fan of the writing style at first, but I’m so glad I stuck with this. The last paragraph of most chapters can be skipped, because it’s usually a gag-worthy sweeping statement- but everything else is well researched, well explored gold. Kamiya takes you on a walk with him through almost every neighborhood, while revealing histories ranging from seasonal migration routes of the the Yelamu to side-by-side comparisons of the 1906 and 1989 quakes.
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
A beautiful, haunting and illuminating look and read about the city by the Bay. After living here for 8 years, it was great to learn the history of the places and spaces I love, while being pulled into new places in this small, but never ending city. Great read for anyone and everyone.
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Definitely picked up some interesting tidbits about SF. I guess that I just wasn't i the mood for such decidedly male perspective on the city.
lisa church
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love SF. Great book, wish I could explore all of the city this way.
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Gary Kamiya reads from his San Francisco book 1 10 Oct 10, 2013 04:12PM  

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“For cities are museums of time, and to live in them is to be haunted by the places they once were. The waterways that existed before the skyscrapers and freeways are a vanished world that beacons to us. When we catch glimpses of them, the city disappears. Its too-known streets dissolve into unfathomable terrain. It becomes innocent again. We want to unmake the city. To regain a lost paradise.” 3 likes
“I have spent much of my life exploring San Francisco. But perhaps it is better not to see everything. To let a small mystery stand in for the great one. To know that somewhere far below, down where the sea crashes endlessly into the land, is a rock that I will never climb.” 2 likes
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