The book was entertaining and connected the dots between former headlines. It also defined an overall dramatic arc in that period of San Francisco history; the mid 60’s , through the early 80’s, which David Talbot divides into three sections.
In Summary: The first section titled “Enchantment,” describes San Francisco incubating a subculture of young people who experiment with means of freeing themselves from the straight and narrow times of the 50’s. Experiments in communal living and psychedelic drugs abound. They express their new ideas in literature, fashion, and music which become emblematic for the counter-culture . As creativity peaks, and the novelty wears off, the underbelly of negative forces, unleashed in all the new freedom, begins to dominate. This brings us to the second section of the book; “Terror.” More and more seekers arrive in San Francisco with flowers in their hair only to find needles in arms and desperation in the streets. Throughout most of the 70’s, San Francisco slips into further decline. The original idealism of the hippies is lost and wave after wave of violence wrack the city, defeating the politicians and the corrupt SFPD. Each bottom is exceeded by the next, culminating in a nadir of the Jim Jones massacre and the assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor, Harvey Milk. Out of this low, “the right mayor for the times”, Dianne Feinstein, with the assists of others, takes charge and stabilizes the situation with which we arrive at the last section of the book; “Deliverance.” Several potential calamities are averted and the city is able to catch its breath. Spirits are further lifted when the worst team in the NFL, the San Francisco 49er’s, beats their rival, the Dallas Cowboys (self-proclaimed as “God’s team”), and goes on to win the Super Bowl. San Francisco is back in form and demonstrates its true potential with the handling of the next crisis; AIDS. Throughout the horrors of this epidemic, San Francisco fills the vacuum of indifference of the Reagan administration with funds, and innovative care. Many heroes emerge from the ranks of health care, the gay community, and city government, and their responses serve as models to other cities and countries around the world. One stellar example is ward 5B of SF General Hospital pioneering “the development of what later became known as patient-centered care.” At last, San Francisco survives its trials, and rekindles its reputation as a destination for freedom and creativity.
David Talbot provides the thread of facts from which each event unfolds out of what came before it. There are many dozens of individual stories told with carefully researched details which coalesce as if pixels, to form a clear and coherent whole. As a reader who lived through the times and witnessed some of it first hand, I closed the book with a much deepened and enhanced understanding.