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Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (2010)

af Rebecca Solnit

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391566,299 (4.12)12
What makes a place? Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit's brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two 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, or Shanghai. CONTRIBUTORS: Cartographers: Ben Pease and Shizue Seigel Designer: Lia Tjandra Artists: Sandow Birk, Mona Caron, Jaime Cortez, Hugh D'Andrade, Robert Dawson, Paz de la Calzada, Jim Herrington, Ira Nowinski, Alison Pebworth, Michael Rauner, Gent Sturgeon, Sunaura Taylor Writers and researchers: Summer Brenner, Adriana Camarena, Chris Carlsson, Lisa Conrad, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Paul La Farge, Genine Lentine, Stella Lochman, Aaron Shurin, Heather Smith, Richard Walker Additional cartography: Darin Jensen; Robin Grossinger and Ruth Askevold, San Francisco Estuary Institute… (mere)
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If there's such a thing as a conventional atlas, Infinite City: San Francisco is the furthest thing from it. And that's not a bad thing. The whole is a mix of historical, sociological and anthropological viewpoints. For example, you can see a rundown of the indigenous names of the bay area long before the Europeans arrived. Or you can see all the different coffee shop locations and presumably where the nearest water sources are accessed. Or you can see the ghost-town-like corridors of former businesses which are now defunct. Like I said, unconventional. It's a contemporary history of San Francisco where even the colonial maps are viewed through the social politics of the present day. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Aug 1, 2019 |
This was a really fascinating book! It first came to my attention when my younger sister started school at USF a few years ago, and she was required to get this book as part of a freshman seminar class. I finally got my hands on her copy.

Rebecca Solnit and her team of cartographers, writers, and artists present atlases that juxtapose two seemingly unrelated events, people, topics, situations, occurrences, etc. onto one map that presents the reader with an in-depth look at places, events, and people throughout the fascinating history of San Francisco. Most of the time, these maps work (like in the Cinema map, which shows the locations of Hitchcock's film Vertigo and the former locations of the old-fashioned cinema houses, as well as the haunting map discussing the locations of a certain type of tree and the murders that occurred in the city). Others, however, fall flat, either because the topics don;t seem to mesh well at all, or because they are boring (which is at the discretion of the reader, of course). I did not enjoy the map/essay about the salmon and the zen centers, for instance.

Despite some questionable topics, I found the majority of the maps and accompanying essays to be really fun and fascinating (Rebecca Solnit in particular has a really great writerly voice, and I enjoyed all of her essays). I have visited the city many times, to visit friends or family, or just to have fun, and my mom grew up there (and I grew up an hour away from the city), so I am pretty familiar with it. It was fun to get more insight into the history of the city that I was not aware of before (such as the late-night bars that the dockworkers used to frequent, and the lives of people to inhabit the Mission district). I feel that people who are familiar with the city would appreciate and enjoy this book the most, but even readers who have never set foot there will be able to take away something about this truly infinite city, and perhaps even be inspired to take a journey to San Francisco themselves. ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Jul 21, 2014 |
Rebecca Solnit has produced a fascinating artifact in Infinite City that captures the essence of what has happened in and to San Francisco over the years. She calls it an atlas, but it is much more than a collection of maps. Each of the 22 maps highlights particular neighborhoods or particular cultural and political factors and events that have played a role in creating the city that we see today. And each of these cultural overlays are accompanied by an essay that fleshes out what we see depicted on the maps.

One particularly attractive map is called “Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces,” an interesting juxtaposition, but there are more than two dozen species of butterfly (colorfully scattered across the map) that inhabit particular neighborhoods. The map and accompanying article highlight the history of San Francisco as a “sanctuary city for both human beings and others.” More than twenty percent of the voting population in San Francisco is gay.

Another map, “Cinema City: Muybridge Inventing Movies, Hitchcock Making Vertigo,” pinpoints locations significant to Eadweard Muybridge, who lived in San Francisco between 1855 and 1881, and locations seen in the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Even tourists will be intrigued. Other interesting presentations include “The Names Before the Names: The Indigenous Bay Area”; “Graveyard Shift: The Lost Industrial City of 1960 and the Remnant 6 A.M. Bars”; and “Phrenological San Francisco,” which playfully imposes a profiled head over the San Francisco map and delineates pseudoscientific names over the various neighborhoods as if to reveal the psychological makeup of the city.

The development of San Francisco into a metropolis created many upheavals in the lives of residents. The city has a history of activism and many locally famous battles have been fought and sometimes even won by the underdog. Many such battles are commemorated here, as are various neighborhoods like Civic Center, The Mission District and The Fillmore.

Readers who know San Francisco well will appreciate Infinite City most of all. Even though I lived there when urban development and neighborhood activism were at their peak, many of the details of what went on were unknown to me. My focus was elsewhere. So even I have learned a lot from this book! ( )
2 stem Poquette | May 30, 2014 |
I'd give this beautiful-to-look-at and fascinating-to-read homage to and excavation of the city of San Francisco more stars if that were possible. As a resident of the City by the Bay (transplanted from Wisconsin post Summer of Love) for much of 8 years (with time off for world travels)and having lived 50 miles north of the city ever since, SF has been the metro hub of my adult life. The title of the book is well chosen, since there are even more maps of the city that can be imagined than have been artfully created by Solnit and her collaborators (this is truly a collective work). The 22 maps that make up Infinite City include ones entitled "Cinema City: Muybridge Inventing Movies, Hitchcock making Vertigo," "Truth to Power: Race and Justice in the City's Heart," "Poison/ Palate: The Bay Area in Your Body" and perhaps my favorites, simply because I lived in and near these neighborhoods, "Fillmore: Promenading the Boulevard of Gone" and "The Mission: North of Home, South of Safe." Better than any tourist guide. Every great city deserves such a book. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
A fascinating, quirky look at San Francisco and the Bay Area. Interesting for both residents and non-residents, Solnit's collection of maps serves as a guide to the geography and the psyche of the City. ( )
  argyriou | Jan 16, 2012 |
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What makes a place? Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit's brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two 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, or Shanghai. CONTRIBUTORS: Cartographers: Ben Pease and Shizue Seigel Designer: Lia Tjandra Artists: Sandow Birk, Mona Caron, Jaime Cortez, Hugh D'Andrade, Robert Dawson, Paz de la Calzada, Jim Herrington, Ira Nowinski, Alison Pebworth, Michael Rauner, Gent Sturgeon, Sunaura Taylor Writers and researchers: Summer Brenner, Adriana Camarena, Chris Carlsson, Lisa Conrad, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Paul La Farge, Genine Lentine, Stella Lochman, Aaron Shurin, Heather Smith, Richard Walker Additional cartography: Darin Jensen; Robin Grossinger and Ruth Askevold, San Francisco Estuary Institute

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