A crack in the edge of the world America and the great California earthquake of 1906

Simon Winchester

Book - 2005

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New York : HarperCollins 2005.
1st ed
Physical Description
xiv, 462 p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Simon Winchester (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

What Winchester did for the 1883 cataclysmic eruption of a South Pacific volcano in Krakatoa (2002), he now does for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake--that is, making a significant geological incident understandable and even exciting to the lay reader not only in its scientific terms but also within a broad historical, political, and social context. "The planet briefly shrugged" is how the author poetically describes the slippage along the San Andreas fault that resulted in the earthquake and subsequent firestorm that together devastated San Francisco--this in a year that, as Winchester points out, saw a particularly high number of earthquakes around the globe. His discussion of plate tectonics lays a geological foundation for a subsequent picture he paints of California immigration history up to 1906. Winchester insists the earthquake brought "the end . . . of San Francisco's supremacy among the cities of the American West." Krakatoa appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, as did The Professor and the Madman (1998), his marvelously engaging story of the man who essentially wrote the Oxford English Dictionary; so, the wise librarian might consider ordering a second copy of his new book. ((Reviewed August 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

After Krakatoa, Winchester takes on another disaster: the huge San Francisco earthquake of 1906. With a ten-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The centennial of the San Francisco earthquake is coming up in April 2006, and the authors of these two distinct new histories of the event each frame their work within their own particular expertise. Former firefighter Smith (Report from Engine Co. 82 ) takes a look at the famous San Francisco disaster from a firefighter's point of view. He recounts the events by focusing on some of the major actors, such as the heroic naval officer who saved the piers, the surprisingly effective if wholly corrupt Mayor Abe Ruef, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, and Gen. Frederick Funston, who probably did a lot to destroy the city through misguided management of men and explosives. While Smith does reveal the factors that made the fire so devastating, such as lack of building codes, flammable materials, and insufficient firefighting infrastructure, he concentrates on the human side, effectively telling the many stories of heroism, stupidity, cowardice, strength, bad luck, and good fortune bred by the fire. This is a readable and exciting book. Winchester (Krakatoa ), an Oxford-trained geologist, starts with a lengthy dissertation on the history of geology and the development of the tectonic plate theory, now the generally accepted model for earthquake production. In the course of a ramble from Iceland to the western edge of the North American plate, which runs directly under San Francisco, he manages to cover the New Madrid earthquake, a variety of familiar and unfamiliar faults, and quite a bit of interesting lore about the complex California geology. The author does describe the 1906 event in considerable detail but goes further to place it in context with the earth's geologic history and discusses the effect it had on a century of American history. An outstanding work, less accessible but more intellectually stimulating than Smith's, Winchester's title would be well placed in most public libraries and is likely to be popular over time. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/05.]--Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS [Page 76]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this brawny page-turner, bestselling writer Winchester (Krakatoa , The Professor and the Madman ) has crafted a magnificent testament to the power of planet Earth and the efforts of humankind to understand her. A master storyteller and Oxford trained geologist, Winchester effortlessly weaves together countless threads of interest, making a powerfully compelling narrative out of what he calls "the most lyrical and romantic of the sciences." Using the theory of plate tectonics introduced in 1968 by an obscure geologist, J. Tuzo Wilson, Winchester describes a planet in flux. Across the surface of the earth, huge land masses known as plates push and pull at each other. At 5:12 a.m. in 1906, the North American and Pacific plates did precisely that. Along a 300-mile fault east of the Gold Rush city of San Francisco, the earth, in Winchester's word, "shrugged." While the initial shock devastated large parts of the city, it was the firestorm that raged in the days following that nearly wiped San Francisco off the map. The repercussions of the disaster radiated out from the epicenter for years to come. Locally, Winchester finds in the records at City Hall that the destruction led to a huge rise in Chinese immigration. Winchester also cites the tragedy in the rise of the nascent Pentecostal movement, whose ranks swelled in the months and years after in the belief that the catastrophe had been a sign from God. With fabulous style, wit and grace, Winchester casts doubt on the very notion of solid ground and invites the reader to ponder the planet they live on, from both inside and out. B&w illus. and maps. (Oct. 4) [Page 195]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An informative exploration of earthquakes places a particular focus on the San Francisco disaster of 1906, describing how it affected more than 200 miles of California, triggered a vast firestorm, and destroyed the gold-rush capital, in an account that reveals the geological underpinnings that caused the earthquake. 400,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An informative exploration of earthquakes places a particular focus on the San Francisco disaster of 1906, describing how it affected more than two hundred miles of California, triggered a vast firestorm, and destroyed the gold-rush capital.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Winchester's recounting of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is dense with facts but light and breezy in style. Full of both geological history and personal anecdotes, the book explains the longstanding dangers of the San Andreas Fault and the long-term consequences of the earthquake it caused. Winchester also provides a palpably vibrant picture of life in San Francisco just before and following the earthquake. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

The international bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa vividly brings to life the 1906San Francisco Earthquake that leveled a city symbolic of America's relentless western expansion. Simon Winchester has also fashioned an enthralling and informative informative look at the tumultuous subterranean world that produces earthquakes, the planet's most sudden and destructive force.In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, San Francisco and a string of towns to its north-northwest and the south-southeast were overcome by an enormous shaking that was compounded by the violent shocks of an earthquake, registering 8.25 on the Richter scale. The quake resulted from a rupture in a part of the San Andreas fault, which lies underneath the earth's surface along the northern coast of California. Lasting little more than a minute, the earthquake wrecked 490 blocks, toppled a total of 25,000 buildings, broke open gas mains, cut off electric power lines throughout the Bay area, and effectively destroyed the gold rush capital that had stood there for a half century.Perhaps more significant than the tremors and rumbling, which affected a swatch of California more than 200 miles long, were the fires that took over the city for three days, leaving chaos and horror in its wake. The human tragedy included the deaths of upwards of 700 people, with more than 250,000 left homeless. It was perhaps the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.Simon Winchester brings his inimitable storytelling abilities -- as well as his unique understanding of geology -- to this extraordinary event, exploring not only what happened in northern California in 1906 but what we have learned since about the geological underpinnings that caused the earthquake in the first place. But his achievement is even greater: he positions the quake's significance along the earth's geological timeline and shows the effect it had on the rest of twentieth-century California and American history.A Crack in the Edge of the World is the definitive account of the San Francisco earthquake. It is also a fascinating exploration of a legendary event that changed the way we look at the planet on which we live.