The First Book We Ever Published
Chronicle Books was born in 1967 during the Summer of Love in San Francisco. This year marks our 50th anniversary: five decades of turning pages, signing letters, and giving gifts. So how, exactly, did we get here?
This summer, we’ll explore all corners of Chronicle Books: the past, the present, and the future. We’ll have a weekly series where we dip into our archive and dust off the best books of each decade. We’ll traverse across our seven-by-seven mile city, celebrating with bookish surprises. And we’ll teach you all a thing or two about ourselves.
To kick things off, we must start at the beginning with the very first book we published: Hills of San Francisco.
You see, Chronicle Books has a unique beginning—we started in the newspaper business. Specifically, the San Francisco Chronicle.
In the 1960s, newspapers were king. Politics and hard news aside, the daily papers were your go-to source for timely leisure and cultural information—think travel tips, restaurant reviews, and local oddities—and the San Francisco Chronicle was no exception.
To encourage new subscriptions, the Chronicle decided to publish a book called Hills of San Francisco; you received the limited edition gift when you purchased a subscription.
Later, the Chronicle realized they could sell it as a standalone book, and thus created a publishing division: the Chronicle Publishing Company. What is now known as Chronicle Books was born.
The foreword of Hills of San Francisco was written by Herb Caen, a legendary pundit in the San Francisco scene. He was celebrated for his daily column (which he wrote for nearly sixty years) of local happenings and gossip, peppered with more puns than you could count. His writing style was a beautiful, rambling flow of love for San Francisco, in all its greatness and its flaws. He was a word master: he coined the term beatnik in 1958, and helped popularize hippie in 1967. He was the one who jokingly referred to Berkeley as Berserkeley.
The book itself is a lovely feature on the, yes, hills of San Francisco. And there are many: the book describes 42, each with a deep dive into details about the area and local scene.
Hills of San Francisco spurred a flurry of books adapted from newspaper columns about Bay Area outdoor activities and history. It was a wise move—instead of facing the 24-hour expiration date of newspapers, old copy could be turned into something far more evergreen.
But back to Hills of San Francisco.
It’s a fitting first book. It is part of our identity, something so irresistibly San Francisco. We love our hills, and at times, hate our hills. There are streets so steep they have steps cut into them. To drive a stick-shift car feels like an impossible feat. A brief walk in the city turns into an unexpected hike, but your climb is rewarded with a stunning view of the city’s sprawl and the azure Pacific.
To attempt to codify these hills into a book—to lock these hills into place with a personality, and a vibrance—the hills come alive. And that is a first book we feel very proud of.
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Stay tuned for more about our history throughout the summer, and follow along our 50th celebrations with the hashtag #ChronicleBooksTurns50.
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