Infinite City

I recently finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s excellent “Infinite City” (Amazon), and for somebody like me who likes maps, history and San Francisco it was a pleasure throughout. If you love San Francisco, buy it now.

One of the main themes of the book is that every person has a very different mental map of the city they are living in, based on their daily habits and their experience of the place. This is certainly true and at the same time endlessly fascinating, and the book tries to explore this fact with a number of fresh and unusual maps of San Francisco accompanied by essays that take short, deep dives into the infinite fractal histories that make up the sum of the city.

The book is very inspiring to go back out into the different neighborhoods of San Francisco and to look at the place with new eyes, to try to discover some of the deeper networked layers of historical detritus that are often hidden by not much more than a thin skin of paint.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for a dozen years and still come to the city daily from across the Bay, and this book rang very true. It very much is a reflection of my own experience of the city as I explore it on long walks.

Of course most places where humans have lived for a while will build up fascinating histories and unique life stories, but San Francisco has always stood out for me – it is such a young city: In less than 200 years – after thousands of years as a relatively serene collection of fishing villages – San Francisco has seen incredible growth, heartbreaking disasters, booms and busts.

It is one of the most multicultural cities on Earth that has been gracefully draped across one of the most breathtaking landscapes of the American West, filled with a wild collection of unique personalities that transform every street corner and every bus ride into improv theater.

And you thought this is a book review, hm? Nope, just letting you know that if you haven’t been here in a while or have never been to San Francisco before, go there now. And if you live here, go take a walk!

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