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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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1,967585,792 (3.66)111
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 111 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
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 |
Interesting book about the geology of the North American continent and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Winchester lays a lot of "groundwork" before getting to the earthquake itself. ( )
  CatsandCherryPie | Jul 12, 2019 |
I suppose I've had a latent interest in geology most of my adult life. I never did much about it though. On vacations my wife and I would be sure to check out interesting serpentine or chert formations we might stumble upon. We had a favorite rock shop in far northern California that we loved to drop in on when we camped up north. My wife spent a summer working at the grand canyon while in college whereas I trekked all around Lassen Volcanic national Park. (She too). Then of course there is Yosemite. And the earthquake faults all around us. But still, I didn't really actively pursue my interest as people often do who are really into something. I've always seemed to have too many interests!

So this book ... it will be one of the most enjoyable reads of the year for me. It is a long book. Readers who expected to read all about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 might be sorely disappointed. As I noted on one of the non-fiction threads when I started this, a large part of the book is only nominally about the 1906 earthquake. What this seems to really be about is the birth of modern geology in the late 60's and early 70's as well as a lot more, a sort of condensed overview of aspects and historical figures of the "old" geology and how the geologic world got shaken to a new way of thinking by plate tectonics. I was surprised and pleased to find about a 7 page sequence and a photo on Eldridge Moores. When I was in college at UC Davis in the early 70's I took a geology course on what was then a very new theory, plate tectonics, and it was given by James Valentine and Eldridge Moores. It turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took. I could hardly wait for each lecture. Both men were excellent teachers and it was exciting. Moores has since become a giant in the field. He just died a few months ago and I was saddened when I read that. https://geology.ucdavis.edu/people/inmemoriam/moores

Winchester meanders on subjects as a writer. That can be frustrating if one wants to zero in on a subject. In this case the meandering worked extremely well for me. I recognize that it might not work for others. This book as I said is a history of geology told in an unconventional way, as well as a travelogue by the Author across America and the geology of the country, particularly the West, and it does cover the San Francisco earthquake to reward the patient reader. Oddly for me that became less important as I read and learned about the geologic world immediately around me. The author spends a lot of time on the geology of the area where I live. Three of my grandparents were born in San Francisco in just a very few years after the quake. Three of my four sets of great grandparents lived in San Francisco before the quake and the 4th was nearby. And yet there were never any stories passed down in the family about the quake. That seems a little odd to me now. History gets lost. In a small way this gave me some.

There is a large list of references at the end for further reading. ( )
  RBeffa | Jun 21, 2019 |
  Familyhistorian | Feb 10, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (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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