Duck Duck Book

22 – short history of portland
07.21.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

A short history of Portland / Gordon DeMarco.
San Francisco, Calif. : Lexikos, c1990.
[MCL call number: 979.549 D372s; seven copies, no holds; two copies reference only at Central Library]

DeMarco’s history begins with a brief discussion of the communities and culture of the American Indians who lived in the communities that pre-date our city, then moves on to explore the influence of white people here before the Portland was established, the founding of the city, the character of immigration from other parts of the U.S. and from abroad, the politically and socially turbulent years of the early twentieth century and through the 1970s, and finally the state Portland found itself in during the 1980s, when the book was written.

A Short History of Portland is indeed short.  It is written in an accessible, friendly style, has plenty of illustrations, and takes something of a progressive view of our city’s past.  Certainly it is one of the few books of local civic history to consider the history of indigenous people worth more than a tangential mention.  The book has an unsatisfying index, but a useful bibliography.

DeMarco deserves to be more well-known than he is, at least because he had some interesting ideas.  One of his major writing projects was the production of a series of radical left mystery novels featuring tough guy and thoroughly red private dick Riley Kovachs.  The three novels, October Heat (San Francisco : Germinal Press, 1979), The Canvas Prison (San Francisco, Calif. : Germinal Press, 1982), and Frisco Blues (London : Pluto, 1985), are full of run-ins with lefty celebs (Charlie Chaplain, Frances Farmer), film noir dialogue, rooting for the underdog, and a fair amount of senseless violence.  They are not brilliant fiction, but definitely they’re worth reading if you’re yearning to meet a hard-boiled detective who was on the ground during the San Francisco general strike. 

DeMarco also wrote A Short History of Los Angeles (San Francisco, Calif. : Lexikos, c1988), which I haven’t read but I’m sure is useful and not boring.


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