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Baghdad by the Bay

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  64 ratings  ·  11 reviews
The first edition of Caen's post-World War II collection of stories about San Francisco. The collection describes the city as it was then, with its covenants against Chinese living outside of Chinatown, the former soldiers and sailors trying to hold down jobs and find a place to live, and the drinking culture that has been a constant in the city for over 150 years.

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Hardcover, 276 pages
Published 1949 by Doubleday & Company, Inc.
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Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a child, I never really understood the appeal of Herb Caen, as his column had devolved to his "triple dot" formula of gossip, not far from the society pages. Now I get it, as this collection of his early writings are like a time capsule back to three different San Franciscos: before, during and after World War II. If you're a native San Franciscan and wonder what the city was like before you were born, I can't think of a better book (and I have read many). ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful image of San Francisco circa 1948.

Had heard of this book, and had seen a signed copy in a an antique store, but had not yet read it.

Last week had to drive to South San Francisco several times for a medical treatment. As we left Yerba Buena island and approached the City, the title of this book would run through my head. Still, but just barely, Herb Caan's SF was visible, urging me to look for it--thus a dip into this book which, amazingly, happened to be sitting on the shelf in my loc
Jenny K
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
A window into 1949 San Francisco. It's funny to see how some things haven't changed, the lack of housing, how each person interviewed exhibits a nostalgia for a San Francisco of the past (pre-WWII, or pre-1906), the diversity, and the hopelessness over the "Skid Rowgues." But most of the book is a love letter to San Francisco, its scenes and crazy cast of characters, how nobody can think of living anywhere else. That, sadly, is the one thing that seems to have changed. ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Charming. These are light-hearted columns, meant to be consumed daily in small quantities, so reading a whole book of them is best done slowly. But this is essential reading for those who live in and love San Francisco. So much has changed, but so much of what makes SF unique was obviously already there in 1949!
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So much San Francisco history packed into a string of lively, short stories. It's nostalgia to the umpteenth degree which makes it a little dated at times, but overall it's such a fun read. I can see why the Chronicle just wasn't the same when he passed. ...more
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Mar 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs, san franciscans
Caen gives a snapshot of life in San Francisco during the last half of the 1940s. Buried among his observations of the people are fascinating observations of the city itself, arguably the starring character of his book. I especially appreciated his description of the timing of the various fog horns around the Bay, which brought back a few memories.

Caen describes many strata of San Franciscans, with extra empathy reserved for the downtrodden, the minority, the underdog. He makes sharp observation
Jake Goretzki
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I'm a total sucker for a city memoir (see also Joseph Mitchell for New York) and as a massive San Franciscophile, this was long on the list.

This one's jauntier and chattier than Mitchell, and his punning and coinages ('NobHillity', things like 'chowmeinspirited' and 'Skid Rowgue') are relentless yet hard not to love.

Besides its picture of street and social life, it's also fascinating as a record of everyday humour (several of the celebrated wisecracks are endearingly, well, mild and 'of a time'
Duke Cullinan
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Such a wonderful writer. Such a wonderful window on San Francisco life in the '50s. You can't do better than this for nostalgia. San Francisco lends itself to nostalgia so readily, as it is so small and much of the topography remains unchanged. I was there in the '70s and it wasn't a stretch to imagine myself in the locales Caen writes about. Just change the people and the make-up of the neighborhood.

Herb Caen is such a treasure. Funny, clever, corny sometimes but winking at himself. Perhaps the
David Allen
Jan 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Herb Caen can't have known every soul in San Francisco, but you can almost believe that he does. This anecdotal account of his city is peopled by cops, judges, lawyers, hash slingers, bums, bartenders, tycoons, writers, doormen and dames, and his observant eye, lively prose and wordplay ("Skid Rowgues," "stuccommunity") keep his prose jumping. ...more
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: california
These are excerpts from Herb Caen's column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1949. It is surprising how much history you can pick up from his short anecdotes. I find the book is best read in small packets, in order to savor and contemplate the changes, and the constants, since the middle of the twentieth century. ...more
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