Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Crack in the Edge of the World

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
By Simon Winchester
HarperCollins, 2005. 462 pgs. Nonfiction

In 1906, a magnitude 8.25 earthquake struck practically beneath the foundations of San Francisco, and the resulting damage and especially fires caused such destruction that it is still well-known today.  This book recounts the events of the earthquake and fires, with many first-person narratives and historical background, as well as the scientific setting for the quake, specifically the geology of the San Andreas fault and how vulnerable are our human creations built astride it, back then as well as today.

I was expecting this book to be mainly about the events immediately surrounding and including the earthquake itself, I was surprised to find that the author actually spent extensive portions of the book on the supporting issues surrounding the quake: mainly geology but also some historical background and the context of California and the city at the time of the quake.  While I felt this was a little misleading, I still couldn't help loving this book.  Winchester uses imaginative writing and an illustrative and evocative vocabulary that he twists to bring to life whatever subject he is talking about. Also, as I listened to the audiobook, his lively and entertaining performance brought everything to life even more. He has a sonorous Oxford accent, and a drama and passion in his reading that I have never heard from a nonfiction narrator. 

I think if you are a looking for an in-depth description of the San Francisco quake itself, you might be a little disappointed with this book, as it spends so much time covering other bases (scientific, historical, and contextual).  But if you're looking for an interesting history, and have even a remote interest in California, geology, or natural disasters, this audiobook is recommended.


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