Customer Reviews: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk
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on November 29, 2008
Randy Shilts was a great writer, his books are always a good read. This was his first, and perhaps best book. It tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected politician in America. I bought this book after reading the reviews of "Milk," the new movie starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. It's a good history of how gay men were treated in America in the 1940's and 1950's, tells about Stonewall, then moves to San Francisco and the Castro, when Harvey Milk does.The Castro grew up around the time Harvey Milk first came here, started his camera store and ran for City Supervisor. Milk comes across as someone with compassion and a clear vision of what city governement should do, but also someone with a wicked sense of humor, and a sense of theatre, which makes it a fun read. He really comes alive in this book. The book goes through his assasination by a former police officer, Dan White, the candlelight procession after his death, the trial of Dan White, and subsequent "White Night Riots." A must read for anyone interested in the gay rights movement.
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on January 13, 2009
Harvey Milk has become, deservedly, something of a legend in the gay rights movement and in the broader history of San Francisco politics. In The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, Randy Shilts attempts to separate man from myth and then put it back together again. The result is a book which is accessible to both a casual and more academic audience.

Shilts's writing style is fresh and casual. It is almost as though the man were sitting in a room having a conversation with you. Episodes are presented as a series of stories that flow throughout the book. So for example, we learn what Milk's lover Scott was doing when he heard the news of his assassination. The writing style lends itself well to a biography and works to make Milk more "human" than might otherwise be achieved.

Shilts's writing style can be somewhat problematic, however, in that the story does not necessarily flow in a linear fashion. For the reader who is interested in the story of Milk from a conceptual or casual interest, this should not be a problem. It could be more problematic, however, for the academic reader looking for a better picture of the linear timeline. A timeline in the appendices of this book would have served this purpose well.

Perhaps one of the greatest joys of this book, however, is reading about Milk's fight in his own words. Shilts includes transcripts of some of Milk's more famous speeches in which we learn a great deal about Milk's political beliefs and his thought process in those short months immediately preceeding and during his tenure as Supervisor. These speeches, included in the appendix, should not be skipped as they will help to ground the concepts discussed throughout the biography.

Readers interested in the aftermath of Milk's assassination or in the politics of San Francisco since the assassination would be well-served to utilize a second reference as Shilts's writing stops in the early 1980's and a great deal has changed in that time.

The Mayor of Castro Street is a well-researched and well-told history of Harvey Milk and the movement he helped to create. It should be of particular interest to the reader interested in LGBT literature in that it has so fundamentally informed the LGBT movement since. This is one book that I believe deserves to be on everyone's shelf.
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Author Randy Shilts was a journalist before he became a best selling author (And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, 20th-Anniversary Edition,Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military). His chronicling of the life of Harvey Milk from New York to San Francisco bears witness to the everyman struggles of gay men of that period. From the arrests and harassments in bars to the ultimate victory of being the first gay man elected to United Sates office, Shilts details every aspect of Milk's life. People famous then and now supplied detailed information on the kind of human being that Harvey Milk truly was. (Mind you, this book was written in the early eighties).

Told in a quickly paced and unrelentingly thorough style, Shilts shows how an ordinary man like Milk can make a global change (all after age forty). Milk did this before he was assassinated, making his story all the more intriguing, tragic and poetic. The recent Gus Van Sant film does a great service to the novel, but Shilts is the one that truly gets under the skin of Harvey Milk and displays a man full of integrity, conviction and humility. In his reporter's style, Shilts also describes Milk's associates, friends and coworkers, pulling together the fabric of a life cut far too short. There is a great deal of inside information like Feinstein getting caught with a gun in her purse, Feinstein literally trying to keep Harvey Milk and Dan White away from each other on that fateful day and the bizarre fact that Harvey Milk recorded his obit 1 year and 9 days prior to his assassination. Of course, see the film and the documentary, but read this book to truly comprehend how an ordinary man can turn into a hero for not just a minority, but also any underdog.
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on December 18, 2008
For all the GLBT people in elected office, we should never forget Harvey Milk. Thankfully, this biography of Milk has just been reissued - after far too long - and now there's no excuse to not read it.

A sobering moment comes right at the beginning of this book with the author's foreword. Randy Shilts wrote his foreword in July of 1981, the same month that the New York Times reported on a strange new disease that was found in gay men. Shilts himself eventually died of AIDS. I found myself thinking about this as I read "Castro Street," wondering how Harvey Milk would have dealt with the AIDS crisis.

Both biography and cultural history, Shilts' book is a milestone. Coming out a few years before the Oscar winning documentary on Milk's life, "The Mayor of Castro Street" is the first complete telling about the man who became the first openly gay elected official in the United States. The 1970s were a time of huge changes in the gay community and Milk's election was a sign of the progress being made. It's a tragedy that it ended so quickly.

With the film about Milk's life coming out, this book is a great companion. Shilts' journalistic style is readable and, as another reviewer has stated, the book reads like a novel. This reprint includes all the photos that were part of the previous editions and, to put it bluntly, is a must read.
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on December 7, 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Randy Shilts is an amazing writer and he's very intelligent. The information in this book is engaging. It's just that there are no pictures in this ebook. If my memory serves me well, the copy I borrowed from a library has pictures. And according to Vince Emery, author of The Harvey Milk Interviews, Harvey did not have a relationship with an underaged boy. But in this book Shilts said so. I will give Harvey did benefit of the doubt. The Mayor of Castro Street is very intellectually stimulating. I noticed that he included bits and pieces of Harvey's connection to Jonestown. I wanted more details, but he at least mentioned it, which is more than most people do. He gives the exact amount of information and the specific details that I would have asked for. It's really excellent, except for a few mistakes (words), but they certainly did not ruin the book for me. Last but not least, as someone who lived in San Francisco for several years, I loved seeing the name of the streets and landmarks. They made me nostalgic. This is a book that I'd read repeatedly 'cause it's eye-opening. I recommend it to everyone. It's very good.
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on May 9, 2014
Great biography of a man who thought when he was 40 he had accomplished nothing, but who had earned his place in history even though he died before turning 50. Harvey Milk's move to San Francisco, his multiple campaigns to become the first openly gay man to be elected to office remind us of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. Shilts does a masterful job of storytelling. And he lets us see the man, not just the myth.
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on February 18, 2015
Good insight into a man that didn't change his life and make his mark until he was forty. So sad, that as many in our society who chose to make a change in all our lives, he was dead before he was fifty.
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on January 9, 2014
A real background history of the times of Harvey from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Well written and fascinatingly factual of Harvey's climb up the political ladder. A local San Francisco journalist tells it all.
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on July 20, 2012
I had got this book for a summer english class, and at first i had thought to myself like really who cares about Harvey Milk, but once i started reading it i couldn't put it down; there was so much more to his life and what he stood for so I really liked this book and would recommend it
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on September 3, 2013
After having done some research on Mr. Milk I read the book. Sometimes hard to put down and occasionally I had to just to digest some of the contents. Highly recommend this book for anyone that thinks NOW is the hardest time for gays. Yes it i hard but nothing like with the folks dealt with in the 70's and early 80's.
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