Synopses & Reviews
San Francisco is a city clouded in myth. This urban biography provides an entirely new vision of the city's history, laying bare the inner dynamics of the regional civilization centered in San Francisco. Imperial San Francisco
examines the far-reaching environmental impact that one city and the elite families that hold power in it have had on the Pacific Basin for over a century and a half. The book provides a literate, myth-shattering interpretation of the hidden costs that the growth of San Francisco has exacted on its surrounding regions, presenting along the way a revolutionary new theory of urban development. Written in a lively, accessible style, the narrative is filled with vivid characters, engrossing stories, and a rich variety of illustrations.
As he uncovers the true costs of building an imperial city, Gray Brechin addresses the dynastic ambitions of frontier oligarchies, the environmental and social effects of the mining industry, the creation of two universities, the choice of imperial architecture to symbolize the aspirations of San Franciscans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, manipulation of public thought by the city's media, and more. He traces the exploitation of both local and distant regions by prominent familiesand#151;the Hearsts, de Youngs, Spreckelses, and othersand#151;who gained wealth and power through mining, control of ranching, water and energy, transportation, real estate, and weapons.
This broad history of San Francisco is a story of greed and ambition on an epic scale. Imperial San Francisco incorporates rare period illustrations, personal correspondence, and public statements to show how a little-known power elite has used the city as a tool to increase its own wealth and power. Brechin's story advances a new way of understanding urban history as he traces the links among environment, economy, and technology that led, ultimately, to the creation of the atomic bomb and the nuclear arms race.
Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 2000
First published in 1999, this celebrated history of San Francisco traces the exploitation of both local and distant regions by prominent families--the Hearsts, de Youngs, Spreckelses, and others--who gained power through mining, ranching, water and energy, transportation, real estate, weapons, and the mass media. The story uncovered by Gray Brechin is one of greed and ambition on an epic scale. Brechin arrives at a new way of understanding urban history as he traces the connections between environment, economy, and technology and discovers links that led, ultimately, to the creation of the atomic bomb and the nuclear arms race. In a new preface, Brechin considers the vulnerability of cities in the post-9/11 twenty-first century.
"A classic of urban history, environmental history, California history, and socially oriented architectural criticism, this work contains scholarship that is thrilling in its comprehensiveness. Never before have the inner dynamics of the regional civilization centered in San Francisco been so comprehensively integrated."and#151;Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California, author of Americans and the California Dream
"Imperial San Francisco is a great gift of a book, the product of extraordinary research, insight, and hard work that connects a lot of dots and gives me a reinvigorated focus and curiosity [about] what California culture was and what might become of it all."and#151;Gary Snyder
About the Author
Gray Brechin is a historical geographer who received his Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley. He has worked as a journalist and television producer, and is coauthor of Farewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream (California 1999).
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Preface to the 2006 Edition
Preface to the First Edition: The Urban Maelstrom
Introduction: New Romes for a New World
Part I: Foundations of Dominion
1. The Pyramid of Mining
2. Water Mains and Bloodlines
Part II: The Thought Shapers
3. The Scott Brothers: Arms and the Overland Mutiny
4. The De Youngs: Society Invents Itself
5. The Hearsts: Racial Supremacy and the Digestion of "All Mexico"
Part III: Remote Control
6. Toward Limitless Energy
7. The University, the Gate, and "the Gadget"
A Note on Sources