Reading the Bay Area, or a #ReadingSF [Updated]

This is the start of a reading list, perhaps with more titles to come, as inspired by Christopher Hawthorn’s Reading LA… The idea is simple: to create a community around discussion of San Francisco’s urbanization. But if it is (somewhat) clear why there is a “ReadingLA”, the first step here is to even begin to articulate what is cohesive about the San Francisco Bay Area. Is there a robust body of literature on San Francisco’s architecture and vernacular landscape, or its urbanism? John King indicated somewhere that there wasn’t, and perhaps he is right. But San Francisco, like any city, merits a read on its own terms, and that’s what maybe is interesting about starting to study the texts on this city: a search for a theory.

This community could take shape online as well as offline. The list has expand, drawing titles that may not conform to preconceived notions of what an “urbanism” or urban development text should look like. Nevertheless, I am adding more in order to have plenty to choose from. Some of these books align more closely with the interests of people from planning, architecture, landscape or geography disciplines. But to get a really grounded sense of Bay Area politics and change, I feel that we also need a good dose of history. Finally, given that San Francisco—city and county—is but a minor portion of the huge Bay Area, this list would suffer if not taking into account books about the contiguous, greater region.

Please send me any other suggestions through Twitter or email (address on the right column), or use the comment form below. The list has contributions from: Julie Kim (JK), Desmond Bliek (DB),  Benjamin Grant (BG), and several more submissions in the comments section below.

Asbury, Herbert. 1933. The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld. (Various editions)

Boyd, Nan. 2003. Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brechin, Grey. 1999. Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brook, James E., Chris Carlsson, and Nancy J Peters. Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture. San Francisco: City Lights.

Broussard, Albert S. Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Castells, Manuel. 1985. Part 3: “City and Culture: The San Francisco Experience.” The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. Berkeley: University of California Press. (DB)

Chen, Yong. 2002. Chinese San Francico, 1850-1943: A Transpacific Community. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

DeLeon, Richard.1992. Left Coast City: Progressive Politics in San Francisco. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Didion, Joan. 1968. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (Various editions) (JK)

Groth, Paul. 1994. Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Not limited to SF)

Hartman, Chester and Sarah Carnochan. 2002. City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Johnsonn, Marilyn S. 1996. The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kazin, Michael. 1987. Barons of Labor: The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Litpsky, Florence. 1999. San Francisco: La grille sur les collines. Editions Parenthèses. (DB)

Lotchin, Roger W. 2002. (Selections from) Fortress California, 1910-1961: From Warfare to Welfare.Bloomington: University of Illinois Press. (NS)

Moudon, Anne Vernez. 1989. Built for Change: Neighborhood Architecture in San Francisco. Cambridge: MIT Press. (DB)

Pitti, Stephen J. 2003. The Devil in Silicon Valley: Northern California, Race, and Mexican Americans. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Scott, Mel. 1985. The  San Francisco Bay Area: A Metropolis in Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press. (BG)

Self, Robert. 2003. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Shah, Nayan. 2001. Contagious divides: epidemics and race in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Solnit, Rebecca. 2000. Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism. Susan Schwartzenberg, photos. New York: Verso.

_____. 2010. Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. Berkeley: UC Press.

Vance, James E. 1964. Geography and Urban Evolution in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gov’t. Studies, Berkeley. PDF

Walker, Richard A. 2004. “Industry Builds Out the City: Industrial Decentralization in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1950.” In Robert Lewis, ed. Manufacturing Suburbs: Building Work and Home on the Metropolitan Fringe. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

_____. 2006. “The Boom and the Bombshell: The New Economy Bubble and the San Francisco Bay Area”. Giovanna Vertova, ed. , The Changing Economic Geography of Globalization. London: Routledge. 121-47.

_____. 2007. The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. Seattle: University of Washington Press.


10 thoughts on “Reading the Bay Area, or a #ReadingSF [Updated]

    1. Mark, thanks for the suggestion… I would definitely be into fiction. The original “Hawthorn guidelines” specifically say no fiction, however. Of course, if we start a fiction thread, there would be tons of SF-inspired work.

    1. Jason, that one is a great suggestion. Paul is one of my dissertation committee members. The book is not strictly SF, but we could definitely do it! I love that book.

  1. Fortress California by Robert Lotchin has some chapters on the Bay Area as a military-industrial metropolis.

  2. Thank you for sharing this list! I’d like to read more about San Francisco’s history. Here are some other books that look interesting … “Picturing Chinatown” by Anthony Lee, “Summer of Love” by Chris Goodrich, “Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900–1954” by Albert Broussard, “Name Dropping: Tales from My Barbary Coast Saloon” by Barnaby Conrad, “San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks” by James Smith

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