Synopses & Reviews
The international bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman
vividly brings to life the 1906 San 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 butwhat 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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Winchester is an engaging tour guide, and his tale a humbling one. Humankind exists, he concludes, by 'the planet's consent.'" Kirkus Reviews
"What Winchester did for...Krakatoa, 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." Booklist
"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..." Library Journal
"Crack disappoints with its relative lack of human drama....[Winchester] obviously considers the earth to be as deserving of character development as any single person, but the people here barely register on his Richter scale. (Grade: C+)" Entertainment Weekly
"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." Wall Street Journal
The New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa takes an adventurous and informative look at earthquakes, as seen through the devastating quake in San Francisco in 1906.
About the Author
Simon Winchester was a geologist at Oxford and worked in Africa and on offshore oil rigs before becoming a full-time globe-trotting foreign correspondent and writer. He currently lives on a small farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, an apartment in New York's West Village, and in the Western Isles of Scotland.