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Audie Award Nominee, History, 2013
Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically changed itself - and then revolutionized the world. The cool gray city of love was the epicenter of the 1960s cultural revolution. But by the early 1970s, San Francisco’s ecstatic experiment came crashing down from its starry heights. The city was rocked by savage murder sprees, mysterious terror campaigns, political assassinations, street riots, and finally a terrifying sexual epidemic. No other city endured so many calamities in such a short time span.
David Talbot takes us deep into the riveting story of his city’s ascent, decline, and heroic recovery. He draws intimate portraits of San Francisco’s legendary demons and saviors: Charles Manson, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Bill Graham, Herb Caen, the Cockettes, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, Joe Montana and the Super Bowl 49ers. He reveals how the city emerged from the trials of this period with a new brand of “San Francisco values”, including gay marriage, medical marijuana, immigration sanctuary, universal health care, recycling, renewable energy, consumer safety, and a living wage mandate. Considered radical when they were first introduced, these ideas have become the bedrock of decent society in many parts of the country, and exemplify the ways that the city now inspires us toward a live-and-let-live tolerance, a shared sense of humanity, and an openness to change.
As a new generation of activists and dreamers seeks its own path to a more enlightened future, Season of the Witch - with its epic tale of the wild and bloody birth of San Francisco values - offers both inspiration and cautionary wisdom.
to read before this one is Robert Graysmith's Black Fire, which details San Francisco's history up to around the point Season Of The Witch takes over, giving one a complete and comprehensive view of the city and its fiery, tumultuous, literary, and always idiosyncratic history. Talbot's book is an ambitious work, and another critic might complain that it runs in a lot of different directions. But I liked the structure (or occasional lack thereof), as it gives the feeling of San Francisco, a city going everywhere at once and never sure where anything is ever going to end up. My own experience of the city was in 1999 when I spent three of the most interesting days of my life interacting with the homeless and haunted, "making eye contact" in places where it was highly suggested that one not do so. San Francisco is a rich and rewarding experience from the top on down, and Talbot's compelling account of the city's history and development gives one the feel of the personality of one of the most fascinating places on earth.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
I *ate* this up - which is not to say it was an easy book to get through. The Bay Area in the 1970s is fascinating, but spooky and disturbing - very violent. Talbot did a great job, very well written book. I loved the accounts of the Diggers and Good Earth Collective, and enjoyed the tales of Hibiscus and the Cockettes. He did a great job with the AIDS crisis.
I couldn't buy the whole 49ers thing. I would have preferred the end to discuss the remaining environmental and public health legacies of the era. His account of Diane Feinstein seemed a bit whitewashed - but the truth is, I don't know.
It was a disturbing, but compulsory read. The People's Temple - the City's complicity with same, is important material.
Maybe the best part was Talbot's handling of the police department.
Great, scary book.
I was not crazy about the narration- which is something I'm picky about. It didn't detract from the story - but it certainly did not add much.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
I moved to San Francisco in the early 70's, lived through these times, but this told the story so well. The depth of this book is incredible. Well done!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Season of the Witch the most enjoyable?
This book is great if you like history or non-fiction types with good storylines. I don't have any special interest in San Francisco but this is a good story regardless.
What other book might you compare Season of the Witch to and why?
Devil in the White City. Fairly recent history with an entertaining and varied storyline.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
It is scary how many violent cults and organizations came out of SF, but how the city weathered them, and you don't even think of them as tied to the city today.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
I was watching the news one day when a friend came in, took it all in, and exclaimed how we are living in the worst of times. Don't you remember the 60's, I said, all the assassinations, mutual assured destruction, riots in inner cities and college campuses, soaring crime rates, Vietnam... and don't you remember the 70s, with gas lines, stagflation, violent crime sprees, bankrupt cities, the ongoing Cold War, Vietnam, hostages in Iran... and AIDS in the 80s.
David Talbot's history of San Francisco in the 60s, 70s and into the 80s is a good reminder of that lesson, that no matter how alarmist our current crop of crazy political candidates may be, things are a lot better now than they were in the "good old days". Yes, problems persist, but not on that scale, and significant progress has been made in important areas.
But never mind all that, this is just a good, good book. Focusing on personalities, Talbot takes us through the optimistic 60s, where San Francisco was a leader in social progress, transitioning via the Beat Generation to the Summer of Love. There was the dark side of the drug culture, the deaths of icons like Janis Joplin, but the spirit of the Diggers and the Free Clinic was mostly positive.
Then comes the heart of the book, the horrific 70s, that started with Charlie Manson (he formed his family in SF before moving to LA) and Altamont, and then descended into sheer madness, with the awful Zebra killings, the SLA kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the Zodiac murders, the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the onset of AIDS.
But the real centerpiece of the story is Jim Jones, notorious for the mass suicide by Kool-Ade in Jonestown, Guyana, but having mostly operated in San Francisco before that time, influencing elections and controlling city politics while running his sadistic religious cult. Other subjects get less air time than they deserve, but a number of chapters are devoted to this particularly sordid affair, as well as the Moscone-Milk murders, which happened just nine days later.
If I have one minor quibble with the book, it doesn't establish enough of the past history of the city prior to the mid-50s. The impact on social change catalyzed in San Francisco is in stark contrast to its conservative roots, and I feel that I didn't get enough of a grounding in that early history. But within its chosen time period, this book is jaw-droppingly good.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Well... It took me months to listen to, digest, and absorb this book. But it was absolutely enjoyable, epic, educational and deeply resonant. Being a child of the 60s and thinking I knew something about the City which had "flowers in her hair", my eyes and ears were opened by David Talbot about the dark, conflictual, and troubled history of the City of Love. Of course, I knew about Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Patty Hearst, Harvey Milk, Bill Walsh, the Castro and Haight Ashbury, and I knew of Altamont, Jim Jones, the Hells Angles, and the AIDS epidemic, but I didn't know about Vincent Hallinan, the two-fisted legal godfather of the City or his vitriolic Catholic rival, Joseph Aliota. I didn't know of the decades-long battle for the soul of the City that not only brought us the Summer of Love, but followed it with decades of murder, darkness, plague, and eventually... resurrection. If you love a great non-fiction book that turns pages like a potboiler, listen to "Season of the Witch"!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Intriguing, Eye-opening, Sad and Crazy! This book kept me pulled in until the very last page. I felt as thou I were watching a movie on the big screen.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I couldn't stop listening to this riveting history of San Francisco from the 1960's on. Salon's David Talbot uses the wonderful narrative form of capturing the era with specific people, incidents and events which define the period (think Michael Lewis). Tremendously evocative of the times, I haven't read a better book about San Francisco. So interesting - many many historical details which I didn't know, even though I visited many times during this period and lived there in the '80's. The narrator was very good too and didn't detract in any way from the stories being told. Bravura achievement all round.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Season of the Witch?
I liked the behind the scenes glimpses into what was going on in SF
Who was your favorite character and why?
What didn’t you like about Arthur Morey’s performance?
Good Grief! Doesn't anyone check the pronunciations of people's names, like Marty Balin? That is just lame and embarrassing. There were others as well..
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Any additional comments?
Audible should be more careful when there are so many errors with the pronunciations of people's names. Spoils the wonder of these marvelous books.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
For anyone who is a San Francisco native, or anyone (like me) who moved to SF more than 20 years ago, this is a fun reminiscence of the SF people, politics and events of SF's recent past. For all listeners, David Talbott weaves together notable people and events (the Halinans, Herb Caen, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones/People's Temple, Patty Hearst/SLA, the AIDS crisis, the rise of the 49ers, to name just a few) that formed the trajectory that defines the unique politics, diversity, people, culture and fun of present day San Francisco.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
What did you like most about Season of the Witch?
A really engaging overview of the swirling cultural changes in the USA, looked at through the story of a city that became the epicentre of so much of that history. Particularly interesting to me was the look at how and why the hippy "summer of love" unravelled, and the wider cost to San Francisco's infrastructure that thousands of runaway teens flooding into an unprepared city had, particularly when drugs became the driving force of the movement. <br/>Very listenable - I re-listened to it twice already.