San Francisco politics “through the curtain”

Monika Trobits’ tidy little book ends with a great quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, – “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players”. Indeed, after reading Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco: a western theater for northern & southern politics, one wonders how Shakespeare could have been so prescient. Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco consists of thirteen chapters that in a linear and concise fashion outline the political maneuverings and major events that lead up to and culminate with the Civil War. As even the phrase “political maneuverings” may elicit snores, let me assure you, this is not a dull book. Trobits’ humor leaps from the page and her experience as a walking tour leader shines as she ably makes even the...

Passion, pride and principle: the Mechanics’ Institute at 160

On December 4 at the bi-annual Members’ Meeting, I gave a talk on the founding of our Mechanics’ Institute and the strange but wonderful times that provided the impetus for its birth. The decision to found our Institute was formerly made on December 11, 1854 when two scores of men in the building trades met in the tax collector’s office to thrash out a plan to create a Mechanics’ Institute similar to ones that existed in the Eastern United States, Australia, and Great Britain. From the beginning, the directors knew what sort of Institution they wanted: A library with open stacks so all the books were accessible to the members A game room where members could spread out their chess and checker boards Classes that would stretch the mind and teach new skills To be an...

Charge of the “Tight Brigade”

I spent Friday – about five hours – sitting in front of a microfilm reader sifting through issues of a rare newspaper, the Placer Herald. Most of what I found was not helpful save this delightful poem: Charge of the “Tight Brigade”  There has been a most alarming quantity of poetic agonizing over the piece of sublime stupidity perpetrated at the Balaklava called the Charge of the Light Brigade. The versus which Tennyson, an English poet, wrote upon the rash act, are happily imitated by “Vennison Stalk, Esq.,”  of the Ohio Statesman, who being charged with having no genius for writing on the fiercer themes of war, penned the following “spirit-stirring lyric” in brilliant refutation of the slander:   At the bar, at the bar, At the bar thundered;...

2014, a year of many books

In 2014 I read 65 books – my experiment of tracking everything that I read has paid off. Most importantly, I read the entire Outlander series – if you haven’t tried this time-travel, historical romance series please do. If you love a great hero you need to meet Jamie Fraser. In my opinion, he’s one of the most memorable characters in fictional history – right up there with Emma Bovary, Julien Sorel, Bigger Thomas, and Humbert Humbert – tragic, warm, flawed, and certainly sexier. While many of the books were just for fun, they all have added something in my research quest. Below are some highlights from the past year.   January Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin I read the Game of Thrones series in 2011-2013. By January 2014 I was dying for more but...

A Fair to Remember and Relive

How many times have you rolled your eyes and sighed when someone starts telling you about his great grandfather? When you ask Lee Bruno about his, he is surprisingly circumspect – perhaps too much so. Lee Bruno’s gorgeous volume Panorama: Tales from San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition is a testament to “the City that knows how”, the Exposition, and the remarkable vision of Ruben Brooks Hale, the author’s great grandfather. Hale was a far sighted entrepreneur, president of the Merchants’ Association, who planted the idea of hosting a grand Exposition – timed with the opening of the Panama Canal – in the minds of San Francisco’s civic leaders in 1904. Unfortunately, the earthquake and fire of 1906 naturally put plans on hold. As the city...