Harrison's Reviews > Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin

Imperial San Francisco by Gray Brechin
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M 50x66
's review
Mar 28, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, non-fiction
Read from March 28 to May 14, 2011

Wow. Brechin does amazing work here on so many levels it's difficult to know where to begin. In one way, this book functions like a locally focused 'People's History', creating an infuriating narrative of staggering corruption & exploitation by San Francisco's elites, first of California's landscape and people, then, as the city's power & wealth accumulate, exporting this exploitation to distant shores.

In it's deep examination of 'The Pyramid of Mining', Brechin braves largely new ground & is effective in demonstrating that all imperial cities are founded originally in extracting resource wealth from the Earth, which creates an immediate gain for the mine owners & defers the costs, environmental & otherwise, to poor people of current & future generations.
There's a Curtis Mayfield lyric which I feel dovetails nicely with that theme: "Where is the Mayor to make all things fair?/He lives outside our polluted air."

Incidentally, the ultimate symbol of that accumulated mining power? The skyscraper. I was surprised to learn that skyscrapers were originally concieved & designed as upside-down mine shafts, from frame & structure to elevators & ventilation. The first were direct statements of mining power, a literal demonstration of how deep & wide their owners had been able to reach into the earth to rip riches out of it.

Finally, and most significantly, Imperial SF is probably the most informative book ever written on the basic relationship of a city to the countryside that surrounds it. Brechin is utterly effective in proving that by it's very nature, the city exploits it's immediately surrounding countryside. The larger & more wealthy that city, the farther that exploitation must spread. At the largest level then, the Imperial Cities (Ancient Rome, London, San Francisco just to name a few) are those that are able to export that exploitation to foreign lands, reaping profits for the few that are paid, as always, by someone else's children.

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