Give the Place its Due

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas might strike the New Yorker as presumptuous, living as we do in a place where change is constant and the sensual stimulation never seems to end. But give “Baghdad by the Bay” as columnist Herb Caen labeled that West Coast locale years ago, its due. Rebecca Solnit does just that in this wonderful book, a true reinvention of the traditional atlas. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and 22 gorgeous color maps, each of which illuminates the city and its surroundings as experienced by different inhabitants, Solnit takes us on a tour that will forever change the way we think about place. She explores the area thematically—connecting, for example, Eadweard Muybridge’s foundation of motion-picture technology with Alfred Hitchcock’s filming of “Vertigo.” Across an urban grid of just seven by seven miles, she finds seemingly unlimited landmarks and treasures—butterfly habitats, queer sites, murders, World War II shipyards, blues clubs, Zen Buddhist centers. She roams the political terrain, both progressive and conservative, and details the cultural geographies of the Mission District, the culture wars of the Fillmore, the South of Market world being devoured by redevelopment, and much, much more. Breathtakingly original, this atlas of the imagination invites us to search out the layers of San Francisco that carry meaning for us—or to discover our own infinite city, be it Cleveland, Toulouse, Shanghai—or New York City.

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