San Francisco Year Zero: Political Upheaval, Punk Rock and a Third Place Baseball Team is my sixth book and will be published by Rutgers University Press in fall of 2019. It is the story of San Francisco in 1978 as well as an exploration of how the San Francisco of today, a city of deep contradictions, came into being. San Francisco is now one of the most socially liberal cities in America, but it also has some of the nation’s worst income inequality. It is a playground for tech millionaires, with an outrageously high cost of living, yet it also supports vibrant alternative and avant-garde scenes. So how did the city get this way?
In San Francisco Year Zero, I, trace the roots of the current situation back to 1978, when three key events occurred: the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk occurring fewer than two weeks after the massacre of Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana, the explosion of the city’s punk rock scene, and a breakthrough season for the San Francisco Giants. Through these three strands, I explore the rifts between the city’s pro-business and progressive-left politicians, the emergence of Dianne Feinstein as a political powerhouse, the increasing prominence of the city’s LGBT community, punk’s reinvigoration of the Bay Area’s radical cultural politics, and the ways that the Giants helped unify one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the nation.
Written from my perspective as a scholar, but also a native San Franciscan who remembers that year well, San Francisco Year Zero seeks to weave together the personal and the political, putting a human face on the social upheavals that transformed a city.
"Lincoln Mitchell presents a new and brilliant understanding of San Francisco, America's most progressive city, by describing and interpreting its culture through the extraordinary prism of politics, baseball, and the punk rock scene in the seventies. The reader learns how and why San Francisco, frequently chided derisively by President Trump and other right wing politicians for our ‘San Francisco values,’ developed those values that eventually become an indelible part of American values everywhere.”
-Art Agnos, Mayor of San Francisco, 1988-1991
“1978 was a year that shook and reshaped San Francisco just as brutally and profoundly as 1906 had, though the changes it wrought were due to cultural, social and political upheaval instead of shifting tectonic plates. In San Francisco Year Zero, Lincoln Mitchell paints a cinematic and insightful portrait of a year in which such disparate characters as Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, Johnny Rotten, Jello Biafra, Jerry Garcia, Bill Graham, Dianne Feinstein, Penelope Houston, Vida Blue and Jack Clark all left lasting marks on The City By The Bay. If you love San Francisco, urban history, baseball and/or punk rock, this is an essential read.”
-Dan Epstein, author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s
“San Francisco Year Zero parses the year 1978--the annus horribilis and nadir of San Francisco's ‘time of troubles.’ Mitchell’s brilliant political analysis has, as a counterpoint, an analysis of the 1978 Giants season. This creative mixture makes San Francisco Year Zero an extraordinarily important contribution to the historiography of San Francisco.”
-Charles A. Fracchia Sr., Founder and President Emeritus, San Francisco Historical Society
“Mitchell's comprehensive portrayal of the zeitgeist of 1978 San Francisco is illuminated by a prism sided by the unlikely trio of baseball, punk, and our city’s political traumas. His writing manifests the passion of a participant with the certainty of a historian. He has perfectly captured that dark uncertain moment when San Francisco was seen in black and white, between the psychedelic era of hippies and the city's reemergence as a diverse cultural Mecca.”
-Penelope Houston, singer and songwriter, the Avengers
"The 1978 Giants were a truly special, exciting and fun team. Mitchell does a wonderful job telling the story of that team, but what makes this book truly compelling is that he shows why baseball and the Giants were so important to the extraordinary period in San Francisco that 1978 was. By doing that, Mitchell provides an indispensable perspective and resource not only for baseball fans, but for anybody who wants to understand how San Francisco got to be the city it is today. Mitchell has woven a tale of politics, murder, cults, punk rock and baseball together to provide an entertaining, powerful, cohesive and holistic picture of San Francisco during the year that changed everything in our city."
-Bob Lurie, Owner, San Francisco Giants, 1976-1992
“From the perspective of an adolescent growing up in post-hippie San Francisco, Lincoln Mitchell brings a totally new and riveting perspective to every facet of San Francisco in 1978 from Major League Baseball, to the early days of punk rock to the tragic, tumultuous and violent politics. San Francisco Year Zero sheds new light on how the events of that pivotal year shaped politics in San Francisco and the rest of our country for the next four decades and to this day. And it’s a gentle reminder that it’s still not too late for us to once again chart the progressive political course that was cut short by the political assassinations and messianic violence that rocked San Francisco and America 40 years ago.”
-San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin
“San Francisco in Year Zero is a book that has special meaning for me. I'm a political scientist who has studied, taught, and written about urban politics for over fifty years. I'm a New York Jew who grew up in a Giants-loving home and saw Willie Mays in his rookie season at the Polo Grounds. In 1977, I became New York's first openly gay elected official. Fortunately, Lincoln Mitchell's wonderful book will appeal to a wide audience even if I like to think of it as being written with me in mind.
First, the book is really good, serious, political science. Urban politics, while a standard course in college curricula, has a paucity of new books. San Francisco Year Zero is readable, engrossing, and serious scholarship. I would adopt it for my urban politics course and I will recommend it to my colleagues who teach it.
Harvey Milk's New York Jewish heritage informed his San Francisco activism, a point that is generally ignored but which will make the book of particular interest to people in cultural studies and to people interested in religion and politics.
Through the exciting baseball story that Mitchell weaves throughout the book, Mitchell offers a close look at a significant year in Giants history, but also shows us how baseball is frequently central to our lives, and the lives of great American cities, even in very tumultuous times. This story is further strengthened because of how Mitchell links the tale of the Giants back to the larger story of life and politics in San Francisco.
Punk rock, Jonestown, the assassinations of a radical and groundbreaking mayor and a civil rights hero, and a baseball team that thrilled the city for a summer are all part of the San Francisco Mitchell portrays in this rigorously researched, analytically sharp and accessible book.
The book is both rigorous political science, that would be very useful to scholars of urban politics generally and San Francisco more specifically, but is also a highly readable and fun book that gives a deeper perspective into San Francisco in 1978. Mitchell captures both the larger political issues that defined the city then and continue to impact it now as well as the feel of what it meant to be growing up in San Francisco at the time.”
-Ken Sherrill, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY
I will be discussing San Francisco Year Zero at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library on November 5th, 2019 at 6:30PM. Following the discussion, I will be selling and signing book.
Buy the Book
San Francisco Year Zero can be purchased at several brick and mortar bookstores, so please check to see if your local independent bookseller has the book in stock. If they don’t they will probably order a few copies if you ask them nicely. If you prefer to buy San Francisco Year Zero online, you can find it at most places books are sold online including Green Apple Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Rutgers University Press. The book is available in hardback or electronic form. Regardless of where you buy the book, please be sure to rate and review it wherever you can.
If you would like to be in touch about San Francisco Year Zero, please email me at email@example.com. I am available for media appearances, podcasts, book events, lectures, discussions and other fora as well.