A Stanford University Three Books Selection for 2019
“Essential.… A conflicted and complex portrait of a city starving for solutions.” —Brandon Yu, San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco is changing at warp speed. Famously home to artists and activists, and known as the birthplace of the Beats, the Black Panthers, and the LGBTQ movement, the Bay Area has been reshaped by Silicon Valley. The richer the region gets, the more unequal and less diverse it becomes, and cracks in the city’s facade—rapid gentrification, an epidemic of evictions, rising crime, atrophied public institutions—are growing wider. Inspired by Studs Terkel’s classic works of oral history, Cary McClelland spent years interviewing people at the epicenter of recent change, from venture capitalists and coders to politicians and protesters, capturing San Francisco as never before.
Writer and filmmaker McClelland showcases the voices of a wide swath of Bay Area residents in this compilation of interviews detailing the transformation of San Francisco from hippie paradise to techie playground. The Bay Area, McClelland writes, used to be a place where communities were formed, not broken. From the black middle class of the Fillmore to the beat poets in North Beach, marginalized people flocked to San Francisco and came together. With the tech boom, McClelland writes, the peninsula's fragile ecosystem has come under threat from young white tech bros who are slowly hollowing out the city's soul, making it harder than ever for teachers, sanitation workers, and even doctors to afford living in the city. The book consists of six thematically arranged sections of interviews with Bay Area residents, reproduced seemingly verbatim. The interview subjects, who include a newly arrived software engineer, a longtime cab driver, and a union organizer, tell fascinating stories, but the book's apparently random choice of subjects and lack of authorial interpretation can leave the reader adrift. The brief expository pieces that introduce each section give only limited direction. McClelland provides an open-ended, glimpse into the lives of several San Francisco residents, but readers looking for a comprehensive take on the city's vast transformation will be disappointed.
Interesting perspective on Bay Area