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Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

(City Atlases)

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,020 ratings  ·  127 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, 157 pages
Published November 29th 2010 by University of California Press (first published October 30th 2010)
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4.21  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,020 ratings  ·  127 reviews

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Feb 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Lee Foust
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
A historical/literary/spiritual/geographical/trivial/racial/ecological/artistic/zoological/industrial/culinary/personal/artistic/murderous/entomological atlas of my first and still dear cool gray city of love. A terrific idea--most salient feature is the originality of the concept, so good you can't imagine why no one thought of it before, why there aren't versions for every city you love--brought to a successful realization. Willfully a patchwork it's by nature uneven, bumpy, collaborative, uns ...more
Dec 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Kathleen Luschek
Mar 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: californiana
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.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
According to the receipt that fell out of this book, I bought it on July 26, 2013 at City Lights. It was three days after my 32nd birthday and presumably a Friday because every Friday for about a year I would visit my therapist in her office across Columbus from City Lights. Every Friday I pedaled my bike the five or six miles along the Bay from my office in Bayview, watching the city transform from neglected future redevelopment hotspot in the shadow of the dismantled skeleton of Candlestick to ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-art
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.
Lissa Notreallywolf
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book strikes me as too original to confine to any one of my shelves, although it will probably live next to her book about walking. It's odd shape will make moving both of them to another area of my library, consonant with the history of walking and remapping the Bay Area, particularly San Francisco. I lived there for well over twenty years and my own history of walking every street in San Francisco, aided by a AAA map makes for a different view of the place, but that is what Solnit encoura ...more
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love Rebecca Solnit’s imagination, turn of phrase and conceptualization. This project features all three, but the first most of all. This is a collection of essays created in support and analysis of the various maps Solnit and others construct to familiarize oneself with some of the many (arguably infinite) ways to experience San Francisco.

Solnit has create pairings of conceptually related subjects to focus the creation of a single map representing the intersection of the two . For example, s
I was disappointed by this one. This is less a "San Francisco atlas" and more "disjointed essays about the Bay Area and other stuff, plus maps". I didn't even think the maps were particularly well done, especially since they're printed on such tall vertical paper (?) and you can't actually see any map in its entirety very well (??).

The essays were sometimes a little too NIMBY and full of misplaced nostalgia. I'm definitely not here to defend San Francisco's recent and uncaring development projec
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had looked at the maps before, but I finally took the time to read the essays - just delightful. She's very clever - I hear she'd doing similar ones for other cities.
Haines Borough Public Library
Oct 09, 2011 added it
Recommends it for: Lovers of Maps, San Francisco, & Cultural History
View in catalog here:

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
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: local-history
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
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Jun 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: california, history
I'd really like to give this book 3.5 stars. Goodreads feature request? My expectations were so high for this book (hey Rebecca Solnit), but some of the essays were a little too preachy and nostalgic for the "golden years" for me. The essay about the Mission was my favourite, and the last one about San Francisco treasures made me excited to go exploring. I just wish I'd felt that way more consistently through the book.
Aug 13, 2011 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.
Martin Kohout
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: could-not-finish
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.
Maura Badji
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-re-read
Beguiling and unlike anything I've read. Loved it.
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read in a while, 6 stars if I could
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the loveliest books I have ever read. I wasn't looking for a tourist guide on San Francisco and I didn't want a work of fiction. I wanted to see San Francisco and it's rise and fall from power and culture through Maps. This is exactly what this book is about. It tells the story of San Francisco through the lens of 22 beautifully drawn maps and intricate prose to go with it. Even the way the book is bound, the cardboard-like cover, the interesting drawings and even the unusual perp ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked this up because I love maps, particularly ones that play with normalized perceptions of geography. And I kept reading because I (re)realized that there were worlds beyond worlds that I did not know about the tiny peninsula that holds up what we know now as San Francisco. Solnit accumulated the wisdom and vision of many SF artists, historians, environmentalists, cartographers, and activists to create these 22 maps. If you want to learn about the history and heartbreak of SF, the bygone c ...more
Robbie Bruens
This is a book that's magic can be felt most powerfully as you look at its maps and paw through its pages. I spent years exploring it with my eyes and fondling its paper before I actually started to read it. The essays and ideas presented in Infinite City are potent dispatches from an askew and piquant perspective on history and geography that characterizes all of Solnit's work.

To read this book, to inhabit this atlas is to immeasurably enrich your understanding of San Francisco, California, th
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
This is probably not what I thought it would be. It’s a collection of essays about the bay area spanning topics like Mission Dolores, Women of the bay area and so on. I did like how each article was accompanied by a map showing all the points/places the essays are referring to. The essays contain some historical information, some personal opinions, nostalgia and so on. I wasn’t a big fan of the essays. I’ll read this again or at least some of the essays and maybe I’ll discover something new or d ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you like books about history & culture and you like San Francisco you'll love this book of essays about the history & culture of SF, with maps. It was published only 7 years ago but I feel like it would've had a different vibe if written now, when gentrification & Silicon Valley have so decisively won. The most interesting essay was by Adriana Camarena, who interviews Mission undocumented immigrants, criminals and gang members. If you've lived in the Mission (I lived on Camarena's ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who love maps, history, San Francisco
Incredibly unique, and definitely a must-have if you love maps and history. I love it more because I bought it at City Lights, arguably the most famous bookstore in San Francisco, if not the west coast entirely. I'm definitely going to get the other two available, New York and New Orleans, and hoping Solnit eventually writes more (Boston and Chicago would be amazing). I would love to see this unusual map format done for international cities, like Paris, Edinburgh, Prague, Istanbul, etc.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a cool idea with very uneven execution. Rebecca Solnit is a good writer who nevertheless weighs down this otherwise great collection of unintuitive, insightful, concrete essays and maps from other contributors. I don't like that her name alone is on the title or in the listing for this book, especially since her contributions (except for one terrific essay about the area's food culture and its toxins) are too abstract and somewhat self-serving.
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rebecca Solnit corrals a bevy of contributors to craft a love letter to San Francisco through maps and essays. Consider the layers of history and culture. Take a moment to get lost...or find yourself. Imagine what might come next for this fair city.
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Fans of Maps: infinite city 3 12 Sep 15, 2014 06:57PM  
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Rebecca Solnit is an American author who often writes on the environment, politics, place, and art. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications in print and online, including the Guardian newspaper and Harper's Magazine, where she is the first woman to regularly write the Easy Chair column founded in 1851. She is also a regular contributor to the political blog TomDispatch and to LitHub.


Other books in the series

City Atlases (3 books)
  • Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas
  • Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas
“The truth is that we're drowning in busywork, nonproductive work, everything from "creative" banking and insurance bureaucracies to the pointless shuffling of data and the manufacturing of products designed to be obsolescent almost immediately- and I would argue that a great deal of what we're doing should just stop. Interestingly, people of all sorts are beginning to reconnect to skills and sensibilities that were bulldozed in the frenzy of 'development' that remade our world during the past two generations. Those orchards and fields that once covered the peninsula, the East Bay, and Silicon Valley are haunting us now, as we seek to relocalize our food sources and our economy more generally. People are relearning how to reuse things, how to fix broken items, and even how to make new things from the scraps of industrial waste. The world shaped by capitalist modernization is not good for human life and is certainly rough on the health of the planet. The hollowing out of communities whose lives were once anchored in the old Produce Market area or who shared life along the vibrant Fillmore blues corridor is precisely what people are trying to overcome.” 2 likes
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