The Islands of San Francisco Bay, edited by James A. Martin and Michael T. Lee, Down Window Press, 2006, 200 pages, $55.00
Ask any ten locals, and chances are that none will know how many islands there are in San Francisco Bay. The magic number is 48. The ecological and human histories of each one are portrayed in words and photos in this coffee-table book self-published by photographer James Martin and designer Michael Lee. The book covers the islands we all know (such as Angel and Alcatraz), the ones we ought to know (Brooks and Bair), and some more obscure rocks that keep just enough of their heads above water to provide resting places for passing seals and seabirds. Though it features nearly as much text as imagery, this is not a book to read cover to cover. Written by several authors, the text tends to be uneven—at times, it soars to rhetorical heights not quite supported by the humbler islands, and at other times it dwells on minutiae while glancing over ecology that deserves more careful explanation. But the photos are remarkable and often surprising, showcasing natural and human history equally well, from haunting backlit images of the stained-glass chapel windows on Mare Island to wonderfully architectural images of herons and cormorants nesting on high-voltage power lines at Bair Island. This book is available through the authors’ website, www.islandsofsfbay.com.