Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot


As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’d never heard of this book. However once it was brought to my attention it moved to the top of my TBR list immediately. If you’re unfamiliar with this book, here’s a little blurb for you,

In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph.

This book attempts to discuss and explain some of San Francisco’s (and the country’s) most important people and well known incidents. While Talbot does manage to cover a lot of ground, from Janis Joplin to Jonestown, from Patty Hearst to Harvey Milk and beyond, he is unable to dive into the complexity and nuance that is required to chronicle such important figures and moments.

A lot of the sections of this book fall short. Not only because Talbot doesn’t have enough time or space to give detailed and analytic explanations, that moments like the start of the AIDS epidemic deserves, but more so because his tone is glib and condescending and he often misses the point. When discussing the AIDS crisis at the end of the book, he uses it as a catalyst for The City’s deliverance from the rocky decade preceding. This is dumb. This is also truly offensive considering how many people died.

Talbot has his opinions, and his puns, and his glibness that carry him through this book. His best decision was picking this era filled with interest and intrigue to carry the reader through. I found a lot of Talbot’s point of view and word choice to be off-putting. It was almost as if he was joking around with a pal, instead of documenting a major U.S. city during a tumultuous era.

The part of this book that is most enjoyable is chronicling all of the events and iconic moments that took place in such a short period of time in one city. San Francisco has lived many lives, and if you’re not familiar with late 1960’s to the early 1980’s, this is a great book for you. You will have to ignore some of Talbot’s bad behavior. Which is actually easier than you would think given the subject matter.  

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