REALMS OF GOLD The Colorful Writers Of San Francisco 1850-1950 by George Rathmell
Infinity Publishing I SBN 0-7414-4537-9 $17.95 290Pages
I believe that in order to truly know a city one has to walk its streets and to know who walked those streets before you. George Rathmell’s book provides the visitor this opportunity as he takes the reader through the rich and exciting history of San Francisco as well as introducing the literati who both lived it and helped shaped its history.
From cover to cover, this book is an easy read as it is written in the vernacular. The book is obviously well researched and the attention to detail adds superb quality to the content. The book covers the period spanning 1850 to 1950 and follows both the timeline of San Francisco’s development as well as the stories of the authors who called the city home during this period and the roles they played in helping San Francisco become a literary mecca. The authors included Francis Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith, Samuel Clemens, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Isadora Duncan to John Steinbeck, William Saroyan and Henry Miller, just to name a few. Rathmell provides such interesting and enlightening facts about the writers that I began to feel as though I knew them. And, in a sense, I did come to know them.
There were others who played dominant roles in the city’s development. Loeb (Levi) Straus came to San Francisco to sell tent canvas only to find the market saturated. By listening to the miners complaints about their clothes wearing out too quickly came his idea to construct a long lasting garment that eventually evolved into what we know as “jeans”. William Randolph Hearst, a Harvard dropout, who craved power. It is in San Francisco he began his quest with the newspaper, the Examiner, which he owned. “Young Hearst began a new kind of journalism that would build a chain of newspapers around the nation and fulfill his dream: to be the most powerful man in America.”
I don’t usually read history books. I have found them to be dry. This book is an exception as the author gives a lively depiction a place and its people. The flow of the text keeps the reader engaged and interested. I found myself wanting more information and I plan to seek it out. Should I ever find myself walking the streets of San Francisco I won’t feel that I am a stranger or that I am alone and that will be because I read this wonderful book.


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