Season of the Witch is Salon founder David Talbot’s “bloody valentine” to San Francisco, covering the years from 1967 to 1982. Like many who have fallen for the City by the Bay’s charms, Talbot remembers what a paradise the place seemed at first and wonders where it all went wrong. He argues plausibly that this particular decade-and-a-half was one of the hairiest, scariest, Dirty Harry–est periods in the long and often grim history of American cities.
It is a story of a god that failed, writes Tim Cavanaugh in his review, and the god is progressive utopianism. Talbot is relentlessly progressive, but he embraces the dystopia with gusto, even when that means resorting to right-wing fire and brimstone. As you read, it becomes clear that the witch of the title is not just a throwaway journalistic cliché. Talbot uses demonological terms throughout, referring to the work of “Lucifer” in a chapter title and throughout the text. He calls HIV/AIDS a “demon virus” and joins in the tabloid/populist outrage at the violent crime that engulfed the city in the ’70s. And this being San Francisco, Cavanaugh observes, the outrage in most cases must be directed at career leftists.