Since the 1980s, urban geography, urban sociology, and architectural studies have fruitfully converged to produce studies of the lived experience of cities. Generalized theoretical approaches to the growth of urban society have ceded place to and have been enriched by “thick descriptions” of particular cities and communities. Jessica Ellen Sewell’s is one such book.

Sewell writes of a period, just before and after the 1906 earthquake, when Progressive Era San Francisco was transforming itself from a Gold Rush town to a sophisticated urban center. Her focus is on the lives of women and the originality of her work is in how she analyzes the role of architecture and design in shaping their lives and...

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