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Infinite City

A San Francisco Atlas

Rebecca Solnit (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 168 pages
ISBN: 9780520262508
November 2010
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
What makes a place? Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two gorgeous color maps, each of which illuminates the city and its surroundings as experienced by different inhabitants, Solnit takes us on a tour that will forever change the way we think about place. She explores the area thematically—connecting, for example, Eadweard Muybridge’s foundation of motion-picture technology with Alfred Hitchcock’s filming of Vertigo. Across an urban grid of just seven by seven miles, she finds seemingly unlimited landmarks and treasures—butterfly habitats, queer sites, murders, World War II shipyards, blues clubs, Zen Buddhist centers. She roams the political terrain, both progressive and conservative, and details the cultural geographies of the Mission District, the culture wars of the Fillmore, the South of Market world being devoured by redevelopment, and much, much more. Breathtakingly original, this atlas of the imagination invites us to search out the layers of San Francisco that carry meaning for us—or to discover our own infinite city, be it Cleveland, Toulouse, or Shanghai.


Cartographers: Ben Pease and Shizue Seigel

Designer: Lia Tjandra

Artists: Sandow Birk, Mona Caron, Jaime Cortez, Hugh D'Andrade, Robert Dawson, Paz de la Calzada, Jim Herrington, Ira Nowinski, Alison Pebworth, Michael Rauner, Gent Sturgeon, Sunaura Taylor

Writers and researchers: Summer Brenner, Adriana Camarena, Chris Carlsson, Lisa Conrad, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Paul La Farge, Genine Lentine, Stella Lochman, Aaron Shurin, Heather Smith, Richard Walker

Additional cartography: Darin Jensen; Robin Grossinger and Ruth Askevold, San Francisco Estuary Institute
Introduction: On the Inexhaustibility of a City

Map 1. The Names before the Names: The Indigenous Bay Area, 1769
“A Map the Size of the Land,” by Lisa Conrad

Map 2. Green Women: The Open Spaces and Some Who Saved Them
“Great Women and Green Spaces,” by Richard Walker

Map 3. Cinema City: Muybridge Inventing Movies, Hitchcock Making Vertigo
“The Eyes of the Gods,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 4. Right Wing of the Dove: The Bay Area as Conservative/Military Brain Trust
“The Sinews of War Are Boundless Money,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 5. Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces
“Full Spectrum,” by Aaron Shurin

Map 6. Truth to Power: Race and Justice in the City’s Heart
“The City’s Tangled Heart,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 7. Poison/Palate: The Bay Area in Your Body
“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Gourmet,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 8. Shipyards and Sounds: The Black Bay Area since World War II
“High Tide, Low Ebb,” by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Map 9. Fillmore: Promenading the Boulevard of Gone
“Little Pieces of Many Wars,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 10. Third Street Phantom Coast: A Map by Alison Pebworth

Map 11. Graveyard Shift: The Lost Industrial City of 1960 and the Remnant 6 AM Bars
The Smell of Ten Thousand Gallons of Mayonnaise and a Hundred Tons of Coffee, by Chris Carlsson

Map 12. The Lost World: South of Market, 1960, before Redevelopment
Piled Up, Scraped Away,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 13. The Mission: North of Home, South of Safe
“The Geography of the Unseen,” by Adriana Camarena

Map 14. Tribes of San Francisco: Their Comings and Goings
“Who Washed Up on These Shores and Who the Tides Took Away,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 15. Who Am I Where? ¿Quién soy dónde?: A Map of Contingent Identities
“Who Am I Where? ¿Quién soy dónde?” by Rebecca Solnit and Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Map 16. Death and Beauty: A Year of Murders, a Noble Species of Tree
“Red Sinking, Green Soaring,” by Summer Brenner

Map 17. Four Hundred Years and Five Hundred Evictions in the City
“Dwellers and Drifters in the Shaky City,” by Heather Smith

Map 18. The World in a Cup: Coffee Economies and Ecologies
“How to Get to Ethiopia from Ocean Beach,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 19. Phrenological San Francisco
“City of Fourteen Bumps,” by Paul La Farge

Map 20. Dharma Wheels and Fish Ladders: Salmon Migrations, Soto Zen Arrivals
“A Way Home,” by Genine Lentine

Map 21. Treasure Map: The Forty-Nine Jewels of San Francisco
“From the Giant Camera Obscura to the Bayview Opera House,” by Rebecca Solnit

Map 22. Once and Future Waters:Nineteenth-Century Bodies of Water, Twenty-Second-Century Shorelines

Rebecca Solnit is the best-selling author of many books, including River of Shadows, for which she won the National Book Critics Circle Award, A Paradise Built in Hell, Savage Dreams (UC Press), and Storming the Gates of Paradise (UC Press).
“A joyous book.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Inventive and affectionate.”—Lise Funderburg New York Times Book Review
“This nicely designed book offers a collection of essays and subject specific maps anyone who loves San Francisco will enjoy poring over.”—Bob Walch
“Brilliantly disorients our native sense of place.”—Jonathon Keats San Francisco Magazine
“[The book] works very well as what you might call a “psycho-geographic” guide, offering a selection of full-colour two-page city and regional maps that you’ll find nowhere else. . . . Each map is accompanied by a thoughtful essay. . . . This is an amazing and thought-provoking book.”—Geist
“A richly textured graphic book that no electronic format can master yet, Infinite City features Rebecca Solnit as cultural and historical tour guide through the city she calls home.”—Bridget Kinsella Shelf Awareness
“A fresh and intriguing spin on mapmaking.”—Elizabeth Ryan Utne
“A thrilling new book.”—Nicole Gluckstern San Francisco Bay Guardian
“A gorgeously produced collection of maps and essays.”—Nikil Saval Los Angeles Review Of Books
“The maps put me in mind of those wonderfully decorated books of the early Twentieth Century, which incorporated those foldout extravaganzas of cartography. Whilst those maps were setting out uncharted geography, Solnit’s maps go further, mapping the dreams and imaginations of some of the liveliest characters this city has been home to. And on the book goes, digging into the the lost and often secret history of the city by the bay.”—Eric Jacobs Beat Scene Magazine
“A brilliant new book.”—Randy Shaw Beyondchron
“This nicely designed book offers a collection of essays and subject specific maps anyone who loves San Francisco will enjoy poring over.”—Bob Walch
“Maps are, without a doubt, a helpful means for navigating a city—unless, of course, you’re looking for something other than direction. In her book Infinite City, writer and activist Rebecca Solnit charts more than thoroughfares and bicycle routes. She tackles the social cartography of San Francisco in a series of maps that make visible the city’s hidden mysteries and rich history. Her field guide beautifully juxtaposes famous landmarks and invisible cultural phenomena, essentially drawing social connections between the city’s ecology and its neighborhood stories.”—Kristina Loring Design Mind
“The maps . . . are Gibbonian in outlook and are to your basic atlas as Michelangelo is to ceiling painting.”—Richard West Everett Potter’s Travel Report
“As an exercise in creative mapping, Infinite City is a gem. (And we remain steadfast that it should be required reading for tourists, who might otherwise wander into the Stud bar thinking it's a BBQ joint.) The maps show that cartography can do more than chart places and visualize data; it can cut to a city’s very soul.”—Suzanne Labarre Fast Company
“In Infinite City: An Atlas of San Francisco, Rebecca Solnit synthesizes cultural and critical geographic inquiry into a readable, accessible, and visually stimulating collection of maps and narratives about one of the nation’s most diverse metropolitan areas. She admits that the work is a love poem and celebration of a city she adores, but she is also quick to peel away the layers and expose the dark contradictions and flaws in her city. This makes Infinite City both a romantic valentine and a candid, critical introspection.”—Jason Henderson Geographical Review
“Solnit's brilliant and super-cool reinvention of the traditional atlas.”—Good Times
“An amazing collaboration among artists, cartographers, geographers, activists, historians, gadflies, ecologists, photographers, and a law scholar, all collected together by Solnit to pursue her belief that ‘every place deserves an atlas.’ So it does, and Solnit's collective has come up with one for San Francisco that is simply stunning—though at least as much for the essays that accompany the maps as for the maps themselves. Infinite City is place description at its fullest and most important.”—Don Mitchell H-Net Reviews
“At their very best Solnit's maps rise to the level of cartographic literature. . . . With academic wit and an explorer's eye, Solnit teases out the interplay of forces that have guided the city's cycles of growth and destruction, development and decay.”—Jeremy Miller High Country News
“Smart and creative and perhaps even revolutionary. You'll never see San Francisco the same way again.”—Dean Rader Huffington Post
“A many-layered treat for any San Franciscan who thinks she knows her city.”—Danielle Sommer KQED
“Places exist in our minds, perhaps more vividly than they might in the moments we physically pass through them. Our understanding of a place— and how we might emotionally map it—is informed by what we bring to it;our past, present, future; expectations, hopes and disappointments color the legend. It's this symbiosis—the relationship between memory, imagination, anticipation and reality—that Rebecca Solnit's captivating, deeply evocative collection of re-imagined maps and essays, "Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas," expertly charts.”—Lynell George Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A gem that has 22 fantastic maps and an eloquent essay that follows each one.”—Noe Valley Voice
“A unique atlas of a unique city. Solnit’s book . . . sees San Francisco in amazing new ways.”—Oc Metro Business (Newport Beach, Ca)
"Fabulous re-imagining of a traditional atlas features 22 colorful maps and related text that describes the city through a series of unique themes. Very cool."—Allen Pierleoni and Hut Landon Sacramento Bee
“Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City, the SF intellectual's cartographic wonderpiece of Bay Area history and emotion, swept a large part of the Guardian staff off our feet, so pleased were we by its 22 out-of-the-box renderings of the hills and valleys we work and play on. . . . Solnit's book, which features deeply researched essays to accompany each map, showed us new roads toward understanding the Bay Area.”—San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Solnit takes us on a tour that will change the way we think about place. Breathtakingly original, with its seemingly unlimited landmarks and treasures, this atlas of the imagination invites us to search out layers of the city that carry meaning for us.”—San Francisco Bay Guardian
“A handsome collection of thought-provoking and delightful maps that show us many takes on a city that’s hidden before our eyes.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Evocative and multilayered. . . . This is a book to savor.”—Elaine Merrill San Francisco Examiner
“If you are a lover of maps, of San Francisco, or both, the experience of Infinite City is worth having.”—Laura Tarwater-Scharp San Francisco Examiner
“A thought inducing collection of maps that will challenge your view of what atlases can be.”—Kevin Winter San Francisco/Sacramento/Portland Book Rev
“A whole new kind of atlas, one with inventive maps and well-researched text that makes unexpected connections, and thereby rewrites the history and reshapes the character of this famous city and the surrounding area. . . . Solnit has expanded the definition of what a book can be and how a story can be told in a mesmerizing, revolutionary new way.”—Tina Baine Santa Cruz Sentinel
“A treasure of intricate, intimate maps.”—Adam Hartzell SF360
“When a reader starts exploring this original and beautifully illustrated ‘personal atlas’ about San Francisco, the magic and endless possibilities of an atlas that reaches beyond streets and landmarks is revealed. . . . The possibilities are endless. Infinite City offers a new way of thinking about any location. Readers will be inspired to create their own atlases of the cafes, music venues, street markets, historical and racial landmarks, iconic trees, statues, bird groups in their own towns or cities. The book provides a template for a way to rethink the world around you.”—Bruce Elder Sydney Morning Herald
“Aided by artists, writers, and cartographers, Solnit examines San Francisco’s many layers of meaning.”—The Bookseller
“An extraordinary work . . . Since 1990 Solnit has published 12 books, dissimilar in mode but united by her argumentative fire and her elegance as a stylist. There is no one quite like her at work in this country, and I wish there were.”—Robert Macfarlane The Guardian
“Rebecca Solnit’s new, collaborative book about a widely beloved place, San Francisco, stirs nostalgia for fogged beaches, the smell of eucalyptus and freeways crowded with vintage VWs.”—Carly Berwick The Next American City
“A collection of essays and subject-specific maps anyone who loves San Francisco will enjoy pouring over.”—Bob Walch Watsonville Register-Pajaronian
"Rebecca Solnit begins to unveil unexpected worlds in [San Francisco] by the creative act of combining elements that before are perceived as operating merely separately or even aspects working to the disadvantage of another: from cities of parts to whole, differently powerful entities."—Books of the Southwest
"A gorgeously published book . . . After you have finished savoring this book, which deserves to be read slowly and thoughtfully, you feel like you have been living for decades in San Francisco."—Murray Browne The Book Shopper
"Gorgeous and infinitely fascinating . . . A treasure,"—Sherry Wright Kissing the Eart
"At last a field book with the sense of San Francisco—the non sense, the real sense, the mysteries of the microclimates, gays and butterflies, gangs, boulevards and mysterious alleys. All here!"—Michael McClure

"Downright near infinite, at any rate, the good fortune of a city blessed with such antic chroniclers as Rebecca Solnit, First Citizen of the Imagination, and her entire splendid crew. There's one map missing, though, from this marvelous little volume: the MRI of any reader lucky enough to wander into its myriad graven precincts—synapses firing, dendrites scintillating away, a whole mad happy carnival of fresh neuronal associations."—Lawrence Weschler, author of Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences

"Solnit's writing is born of intense reverie and deep reading, passionate inquiry and political defiance; she is a lyric questor for the texture of everyday life, and she attends to places and to their variety and particularity with an exhilarating form of attention that illuminates and transforms her subjects. Infinite City is a marvellous atlas, a new approach to history-making and storytelling; it's also a highly original praise song to many San Franciscos, a multi-layered and polyphonic testament, alert to the play of detail and to the grand design, to the shadows of memory that fall, the restless shifts in the urban scene and the vital energy of overlooked subjectivities."—Marina Warner

Winner of the 50 Books/50 Covers Competition, AIGA The Professional Association for Design

Winner, Bookbuilders West Book Show

NCIBA Book of the Year Award, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association

Book of the Year Regional Title Finalist, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA)

Finalist in Creative Nonfiction, Northern California Book Award

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Podcast interview for the title Infinite City with author Rebecca Solnit and UC Press Art Director Lia Tjandra

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