cover image UNDER THE PERFECT SUN: The San Diego Tourists Never See

UNDER THE PERFECT SUN: The San Diego Tourists Never See

Mike Davis, Jim Miller, Kelly Mayhew, . . New Press, $25.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-56584-832-0

San Diego is the latest Sunbelt metropolis to come under the scrutiny of historian Davis (City of Quartz) in this damning trio of essays on "America's Finest City." As in The Grit Beneath the Glitter, the collection on Las Vegas he co-edited in 2002, Davis teams up here with local critics to penetrate the shiny surface of a city that has always seemed to resist the idea of historical depth. Together they present "an alternative, peoples' history of San Diego (from the dual perspectives of its elites and their opponents) as well as autobiographical portraits of some of the 'other' San Diego's everyday heroes." While those who believe that Davis has become the very embodiment of the noir sensibility he once scrupulously dissected may chafe at the book's tabloid-like promises to uncover the city's "real" or "true" history, they will nevertheless find his chapter on San Diego's multigenerational plutocracy engrossing. Davis is meticulous in showing how a succession of robber barons, from the early 20th century to the present, have used their control over city politics (and politicians) to turn San Diego into one of the most unregulated, militarized and segregated regions in the country. Co-authors Miller and Mayhew are no less diligent in their efforts to document the struggles of San Diego's embattled workers, unions and ethnic minorities. Miller's recovery of the city's radical past offers a powerful counter-image of a town virtually synonymous with the Navy and the G.O.P. And in what surely is the most accessible piece in the book, Mayhew gathers the first-person narratives of current immigrants and activists. Some readers will no doubt be put off by the book's admittedly partisan outlook and at times strident rhetoric; however, the sense of urgency will certainly appeal to anyone concerned about the rate at which private wealth determines public policy in America. (Oct. 1)