Thursday, July 05, 2012

David Talbot's Fascinating, Haunting 'Season of the Witch"


I very quickly read David Talbot's "Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love," a popular history of San Francisco from 1967 to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, by the founder of Salon.com. This is one of the most gripping books I have read in a very long time.

There is such a dazzling parade of characters - Allen Ginsberg, R. Crumb, Janis Joplin, Herb Caen, Charles Manson, Patty Hearst, Sister Boom Boom, George Moscone, Harvey Milk, Dan White, Jim Jones, the Zodiac Killer, Willie Brown, Diane Feinstein, and Joe Montana - it is breathtaking. Some of the individual portraits, such as of Randy Hearst (Patty's father) are heartbreaking.  I'm getting ridiculously emotional, maybe, as I get older, but the chapters on the Moscone-Milk assassinations and the AIDS outbreak made me cry.

Talbot's friendlier than I would be to Diane Feinstein, who I see as a big business shill and a warmonger.  He's also shallow on explanations, which is the business of professional historians. But historians can learn so much about writing from journalists like Talbot. I wish historians would start using real verbs, would engage in deep description, would discover the art of using human-sized stories to express big ideas, and would not hold the art of storytelling in such contempt.

I really hate the pomposity of my profession sometimes. If you're fighting for the working class, as some many in my profession pretend to, than you need to learn how to communicate effectively with people who didn't go to grad school. A larger, smart audience wants this.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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