This is an ""informal social history"" of San Francisco from the days when ""Every town was a boom town, every scheme a fortune. Hotel clerks & bellboys sold land and whores with the ice water."" Mr. Longstreet is helped in his history by the plump memoirs of Nell Kimball, madame, and ""R.J.,"" wine merchant and man about town. San Francisco was a crazyquilt empire built on mud holes so deep horses could disappear, tinkertoy hovels with signs like ""GUESTS WILL COVER THEIR HEADS AGAINST ATTACK OF RATS"" . . . and of course fortunes made of slippery gold dust. It was a Babylon of money-grubbing, land grabbing and most important, gambling, with Faro as king (surprisingly. . . poker was scorned. . . the action was too slow) and the author manages to capture its bawdy, boisterous rhythms. What an eye for the marvelous detail: Eggs--$50.00 a dozen; a desperate Levi Strauss cutting up denim for trousers; the notorious Lola Montez striding into town with whip and spider dance; young enslaved Chinese prostitutes operating from slats like see-through crates; the Bella Union, play palace and Queen of the infamous Barbary Coast. Brutality and sentiment, Tong Wars and earthquakes, a mixture as up and down as the hills in which it flourished or foundered. Very visual.