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Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love Hardcover – May 8, 2012

244 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The liberation of San Francisco came with a price. Talbot presents the tempestuous years, from 1967 to 1982, as a new-versus-old battle for the city’s soul. In an extensive history bursting with details and larger-than-life personalities, Talbot champions the outsiders, a human carnival from hippies to drag queens to activists, against the authorities representing the old, mainly Catholic, establishment. The extensive cast of characters includes Janis Joplin, Patty Hearst, Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and Bill Walsh. Talbot, who started the San Francisco–based web magazine Salon and previously wrote the bestseller Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007), presents gripping accounts of both crime sprees and football showdowns. Even people who were there might take away something new, and for others, the book offers a comprehensive introduction to the era. Talbot believes modern San Francisco values have changed the world, and he explores the crucible of the transformation, in all its hope, violence, and glory. --Bridget Thoreson


Season of the Witch is an enthralling — and harrowing — account of how the 1967 Summer of Love gave way to 20 or so winters of discontent. An undercurrent of rock music runs through the book…Some of the artists, such as the Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, still get airplay. Others enjoyed fleeting fame. Season of the Witch, however, is good enough to last." —Washington Post

“A gritty corrective to our rosy memories…enthralling, news-driven and briskly paced tale... I found it hard to put down Season of the Witch." —San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] sprawling, ambitious history… Talbot’s energetic, highly entertaining storytelling conveys the exhilaration of ’60s counterculture as well as the gathering ugliness that would mark the city in the ’70s.” —Boston Globe

"Talbot's book is a gritty, poetic Valentine to the city by the bay as it emerged as a fantasia of ethnic, cultural, sexual, intellectual and social liberation. Talbot doesn't back off from having literary flowers in his hair recounting some of the halcyon days of the summer of love, but he also chronicles the city's many problems with a heavy dose of hardboiled reporter noir. " —Huffington Post

“Exhaustive research yields penetrating character studies…Talbot incisively relates the atmosphere of service in the Haight…In a surprising ending, Talbot convincingly suggests that imperfect new mayor Dianne Feinstein resurrected the city’s heart as it rallied around the 49ers. In exhilarating fashion, Talbot clears the rainbow mist and brings San Francisco into sharp focus.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An ambitious, labor-of-love illumination of a city’s soul, celebrating the uniqueness of San Francisco without minimizing the price paid for the city’s free-spiritedness… the author encompasses the city’s essence… Talbot loves his city deeply and knows it well, making the pieces of the puzzle fit together, letting the reader understand…Talbot takes the reader much deeper than cliché, exploring a San Francisco that tourists never discover.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Fascinating...[the] absorbing, breakneck story of how the City by the Bay fought off its demons in the 1970s and '80s and emerged with enlightened values intact." —Portland Oregonian

"Excellent...Talbot's account of the rise of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple religious movement is absolutely masterful, allowing the reader to see just how and why this unstable preacher achieved such prominence. Talbot not only gives us a nuanced account of the city that he clearly loves, but he also gives us a cultural history of late-20th-century America."—Milwaukee Shepard-Express

"Talbot's new book delves to impressive depths in tracing the city's transformation from parochial backwater to countercultural beacon… the Salon founder deftly sketches portraits of hippies, politicos, and rights activists who forged our 'San Francisco values' and in the process rescues some old icons from obscurity… a compulsively entertaining page-turner… A useful lesson for our Occupied times: Change is hard, but it's possible." —San Francisco Magazine

"A fresh, fun, vigorous look at a strange American city David Talbot knows well and loves with irony." —Oliver Stone

“[A] sprawling, lurid, dishy, and electric history… Talbot musters magnificent details from new interviews and old news reports. … Talbot's chapter on the Zebra killings is genuinely harrowing, as are his accounts of Altamont, the SLA, and miscellaneous madness in a Haight flooded with junk-addicted veterans… always finding fresh anecdotes to savor even in familiar stories… this wild, thrilling, deeply reported book is a choice guide to all of those San Franciscos — cities nobody yet has managed to reconcile in a coherent whole, so kudos to Talbot for matching subject to form.” San Francisco Weekly

“As a phenomenally intuitive journalist, editor, and culture critic, David Talbot has not only channeled the Zeitgeist but helped make it.”—Camille Paglia, best-selling author and culture critic

“David Talbot is a great story-teller. He writes like an angel and has a reporter’s passion for the truth. Describing people I knew, I can say that Talbot has perfect pitch, but he has also introduced me to others, as thrilling as sin. He got it all just right and gets closer to describing the lusty, languorous, glamorous, and sometimes lethal Saint named Francisco than anyone I know. The book overflows with gifts. I’m in awe of it.” —Peter Coyote, author of Sleeping Where I Fall

"In this wonderful book, David Talbot tells the stories deep in San Francisco’s loric landscape, from its cultural greatness to the slides into madness. Talbot explores its volcanic originality with awe and respect. An unforgettable history." —Tom Hayden, author of The Long Sixties

“Talbot presents gripping accounts of both crime sprees and football showdowns. Even people who were there might take away something new, and for others, the book offers a comprehensive introduction to the era.” —Booklist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439108218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439108215
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Steppenwolf on May 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating book about San Francisco's wild history from the Sixties, through the tempestuous Seventies, into the early Eighties when the City comes together, after much trauma, to cope with the AIDS epidemic. It offers a major re-assessment of Mayor Dianne Feinstein's success in leading San Francisco out of the nightmare of the Jonestown massacre and the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. And Talbot also credits the 49ers football team of Joe Montana and Bill Walsh with helping San Francisco recover from the culture wars and violence of the '70s. This is a deeply reported book, not just a nostalgia trip. Even if you lived through these decades in San Francisco, you will discover things you never knew. And it's written in a very lively, passionate style. Talbot clearly cares about his City.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Susan on September 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was born in San Francisco in 1959, and moved away in 1985. I witnessed much, if not all, of what is recorded in this fine book. I read anxiously page after page, until I found I could not finish the book. Why? Because it seemed to stir up something in me, something akin to post-traumatic stress syndrome. It was not easy growing up in the Bay Area, during this era.
I come from turn of the last century Italian immigrants; my mother and aunts worked downtown, in the 1940's, dressed as finely as possible on a working girl's salary: gloves, hat, matching handbag, freshly polished shoes. We had a neighbor who worked at I Magnin, and dressed SO elegantly for her job as sales clerk. Yet, the Beats and Hippies were a fascinating sight, despite their grubbiness; a sharp contrast to the fading elegance of SF. And all the rootless people, who come to California, and San Francisco specifically, simply because they fit in nowhere else. I LOVE San Francisco, and proudly boast that I am a native daughter. However, when it came time to raise a family, the increasing cost of living forced us to move farther north, and while initially homesick, I came to appreciate what living in a "normal" place feels like. A sense of relief swept over me when I realized my children would not ride the roller coaster of emotions one had when living or working or growing up in San Francisco, during the era described in this book: Awe, wonder, beauty, terror, fear, confusion, disgust, respect, anger, love, appreciation, neglect.
We helped change the country, or at least sheltered those that had no place else to go. Changes that needed happen to society, but at a very high price, for many. I will finish this book sometime. Mr. Talbot obviously did his homework, and it is sure to become a classic work on my (former) Fair City by the Bay.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Nite Owl on June 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The book is a ride through the most troubling period in SF history. It is fascinating, disturbing, and enlightining . The characters that shaped the city are heros and villans. The plots of the Dirty Harry/Streets of San Francisco movies from the 70's are very real to what was happening. The culture that started with mellow hippies created drug crazed demons. The chilling zebra killings (local blacks murdering whites for sport). The civil war that removed the "old in's and installed the "new out's" was a megolithic cultural change that altered the soul of the city forever (for better or worse). Unbelievable violence and pollitical corruption raged from the left (New World Liberation, SLA, Peoples Temple). Jonestown, Dan White's assasinations of Moscone and Milk within a week of eachother were almost to sureal for the citizens to believe. You will be holding your breath throughout most of the book, but will exhale when a divided city comes together for the first 49ner superbowl victory(amazing what sports can do). I was there for it all and can tell you the author got it right.
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90 of 107 people found the following review helpful By thetone1 on January 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The book is well written, informative, and entertaining. But it is a strange exercise to read, written by someone with a great deal of information and skill but oddly lacking in a native grounding here. The result is a story told with great facility, but flawed in its biased and incomplete perspective and rather frequent lapses in accuracy.

As a native San Francisco Irish-American Catholic of several generations who came of age here in the era he describes, I find that the book takes a lot of liberties and leaves some unfortunate residues. He feels pretty free to slam Irish Catholic San Francisco, a community great in number with roots in the community that precede the Gold Rush. He even uses an ethnic slur: "Mick" in one passage - certainly you would not feel emboldened to present this kind of bias against any other religious or ethnic group in a mainstream non-fiction book release. (It seems that open ethnic and religious bias is quite OK in progressive circles if you are on the 'right' side of the struggle.)

This odd anti-Catholic, sort of love-hate vis the Irish, bias pervades the book. I think that the author found that he could easily portray old school working class San Francisco in a manner of stereotyping by simply calling the old establishment 'the Irish Catholics' (who certainly had power but never 'owned' the City) without having to do a whole lot of challenging research. He can't bring himself to say something nice about beautiful Sts. Peter & Paul's in North Beach without pairing it with a nasty criticism. This beloved church is one among dozens in the City that nurtured and educated hundreds of happy, well-adjusted people for whom the parish was the vital center of the community.
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