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A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California… (2005)

by Simon Winchester

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2,063616,131 (3.67)114
A Crack in the Edge of the World is the definitive account of the San Francisco earthquake and a fascinating exploration of a legendary event that changed the way we look at the planet on which we live.
  1. 60
    Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester (oregonobsessionz)
  2. 00
    The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain (geophile)
  3. 00
    The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906 by Philip L. Fradkin (geophile)
    geophile: Readers who enjoy one of these books may like a different viewpoint of the same event by another author.
  4. 00
    When the Mississippi Ran Backwards : Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes by Jay Feldman (geophile)
    geophile: Those interested in the history and events surrounding either of these great earthquakes may be interested in learning about the other. While the San Francisco earthquake is well known, fewer people know about the New Madrid earthquake.
  5. 00
    Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles by Simon Winchester (John_Vaughan)

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» See also 114 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Found this book fascinating. At least half the book is about geology. Can't say I understood everything but I learned so much about how the earth evolved geologically and why California is the way it is regarding earthquakes. Regarding the San Francisco earthquake itself, it was full of eye witness accounts and you really got a feel for what people experienced. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about earthquakes and especially for people who live in California or other earthquake prone areas. ( )
  Nefersw | Jan 14, 2022 |
The story of the earthquake that devastated the then-young city of San Francisco is particularly well-suited to the Simon Winchester "grand event" treatment. The earthquake -- and the vast fire that followed -- is an event of such scale, that a writer known to convey bewildering arrays of facts well is needed to merely outline it.

The haphazard rebuilding of the city is a story that directly follows not only the quake and fire, but the needs of businesses in the city and, in particular, the fear that the young city might not bounce back. In typical style, Mr. Winchester dissects not only the disaster, but the social atmosphere it took place in.

The author has demonstrated a passion for language, and this book is no exception. The passages on writing of the time are well-written, and particularly entertaining when discussing sub-par poetry of the time.

Aside from the geology that surrounds the story, one of the most captivating accounts is that of how insurance companies reacted. Some defaulted amid squabbling over whether damage was fire or quake related, and these companies reputations suffered (if they even survived). (Lloyd's of London enhanced its reputation considerably by instructing its agents to pay all claims.)

I need not detail the glittering explanations of plate tectonics and earthquake science, of seismic instrument technology. bringing out details inevitably lessens the sense of grandeur and sheer interconnectedness that Mr. Winchester's best sagas convey. A Crack in the Edge of the World is a typical Simon Winchester book - which is to say, fascinating, lots of digressions that turn out to be relevant, and very well written indeed. While not his absolute best work, this book sits closely behind Krakatoa and The Meaning of Everything. ( )
  neilneil | Dec 7, 2020 |
A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester Review of the Audio Book. Simon Winchester has one of those voices that can really get up your nose. I find him tedious and slightly patronising and smug (but I have forgiven him). I've tried several of his other works and given up on them. I don't know why but this one worked for me.I found it engaging and put across in a way that held my interest. I liked they way that he sprinkles factoids here and there and his little digressions I found filled in details in this huge canvas. I liked his systematic approach to the science as well as his ramblings.Interestingly a few months after listening to this the city where I live was devastated by a huge earthquake, not once, but several times with many lives lost. It was his descriptions of the aftermath of San Francisco that really came home to me then. How fragile our lives and cities are.My understanding of what had happened was definitely better thanks to this book and the reality of what happened here made terrifyingly clear how this "solid ground" can not only move but the sheer scale of the forces involved cannot truly be grasped in a real sense. Prior to this I had only read numbers.Even if you are not that interested in Geology give this a go. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
Quite an exploration of various aspects of history related to 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.
  Elizabeth80 | Aug 4, 2020 |
Always fun to read about your neighborhood. And scary to read about Yellowstone explode. ( )
  mirnanda | Dec 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Geology is not, at first glance, the most inviting of subjects, but in this book Simon Winchester makes it engagingly, captivatingly readable.
Without slighting the human suffering of the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters, and with full attention to the irreducible particularity of their pain, Winchester places their tragedies in an almost cosmic context. The earth is not a stable structure, he teaches us, but a living system.
Me, I hated it. I wanted to drop-kick this book across the backyard. If Doris Kearns Goodwin or David McCullough can lay claim to being the Miles Davis of popular history, Winchester is becoming the Kenny G.
Part tectonic textbook, part intimate travelogue, A Crack in the Edge of the World searches for the irrepressible primeval forces responsible for these periodic upheavals by examining the scars left along the temperamental North American plate, which stretches from Iceland in the east to the coast of California. Tugging the reader along from Greenland to Newfoundland, from New Madrid, Missouri, to Meers, Oklahoma, Winchester reconstructs a sequence of cataclysms as he closes in on the fateful events of that April morning.
This legendary natural disaster and urban catastrophe -- with its rough parallels to today's events -- is the subject of Simon Winchester's "A Crack in the Edge of the World." Unfortunately, Mr. Winchester explores the events of 1906 only after he has taken the reader for a long road trip of geologically significant American towns and 200 rambling and tedious pages on the history of "earlier American geology" and geologists.
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Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve.

Robinson Jeffers, 'Carmel Point', 1954
With this book I both welcome into this world my first grandchild,


and offer an admiring farewell to

Iris Chang

whose nobility, passion and courage should serve as a model for all, writers and newborn alike
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Some time ago, when I was half-idly browsing my way around the internet, I stumbled across the home page of an obscure small town in western Ohio with the arresting name of Wapakoneta.
So far as the ancients of China are concerned, 1906 was a year of the Fire Horse - a time of grave unpredictability that comes along every six decades, and a time when all manner of strange events have the mind to occur.
Then he decided he should be taking pictures - except that he swiftly realized he had no camera. So he went to his dealer, a man name Kahn on Montgomery Street, and asked to borrow one. Kahn was only too well aware of the fires licking hungrily toward him, so told Genthe to take anything he wanted - anyway, it would all be molten scrap in a few hours at best. And so Genthe took a 3A Kodak Special, hurried off up the hills that looked down on the city-center destruction, and began to work. Later he wrote of the one picture taken from the upper end of Sacramento Street, close to where his house would soon be consumed by fire. He was peculiarly fond of it: There is particularly the one scene that I recorded the first morning of the first day of the fire (on Sacramento Street, looking toward the Bay) which shows, in a pictorially effective composition, the results of the earthquake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. On the right is a house, the front of which had collapsed onto the street. The occupants are sitting on chairs calmly watching the approach of the fire. Groups of people are standing in the street, motionless, gazing at the clouds of smoke. It is hard to believe that such a scene actually occurred in the way the photograph represents it. Several people upon seeing it have exclaimed, "Oh, is that a still from a Cecil DeMille picture?" To which the answer has been" "No, the director of this scene was the Lord himself."
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A Crack in the Edge of the World is the definitive account of the San Francisco earthquake and a fascinating exploration of a legendary event that changed the way we look at the planet on which we live.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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