Book review: A Crack In the Edge of the World — America and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

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Author:Simon Winchester
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Year of publication:2005

Simon Winchester begins and ends with the San Francisco earthquake (and fire) of 1906, but by the time he gets around to it the second time, he's provided descriptions of earthquakes and tsunamis throughout the world so detailed that I was almost afraid to finish the book. But how could I not?

Winchester's descriptions of the people and places affected are compelling. For example, the Cassandra in me was moved by the story of the fire chief of San Francisco, Dennis Sullivan, who argued "for years that the city was a tinderbox waiting to be struck.... He must have felt vindicated when, in October 1905, the National Board of Fire Underwriters declared that San Francisco's water-supply system... was in such poor shape that the hydrants would not be able to halt anything approaching a major fire." "[T]he San Francisco fires raged, at first wholly unchecked, for ... three days" after the earthquake. Within 12 hours, half of the city had been completely burned. "Time and again, since almost every one of the hydrants proved to be dry, the firemen could only look on impotently and suffer the jeers of the crowds which at first could not understand why nothing was being done to contain the inferno."

Winchester's explanations of the geology are clear and frank. The appendix about the Richter Scale is worth the price of admission.

Obviously, not for the squeamish. But a must-read for everyone else who lives on Earth. And not just for those who live in California. Look up New Madrid in the index.

-- Emily
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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Crack In the Edge of the World, A: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906

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