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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on May 4, 2016
This book makes geology exciting! Past and present processes in plate tectonics are beautifully described here. I grew up in the foothills of Mount Diablo, California, which is a special example described in a chapter of the book. I had always wondered about how the rippling layers of rock could possibly have formed, and how fossils from the former sea floor made it up so high! I love this book and highly recommend it to anyone interested in California, general history, geology or the natural world. Winchester writes well and tells a good story. The book is gripping.
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on November 28, 2015
Personally, I didn't think this is one of Winchester's best books. However, he is such a good writer and the material is interesting enough that I think it deserves four stars anyway. This book does not cover the history of the earthquake as much as it covers the geology behind it, and of earthquakes in general. If you are science inclined, then you will definitely enjoy this book. As I prefer history, I found it a bit difficult to get through. But again, Winchester writes well and he definitely gives you a greater insight into how our world works. A little scary too! The section on the geological expeditions to the American West are repeated in his book "The Men who United the States," and in more depth too. As for the actual history of the quake, Winchester starts the book with five survivors, but doesn't really complete their stories. There is lacking a human element to this narrative in general, so the history aspect of this book is wanting. Worth reading,though, if you have an interest in the science behind the quake.
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on June 8, 2009
...otherwise, this book would have been a real labour to get through.

Simon Winchester is 'thorough'. And this is good, because at the heart of everything he writes, is a story...and he's a very good storyteller. However...

However, there were times when I had to confirm the title of the book. That it was in fact about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Because he was bringing in material and references from 'what seemed to be, anyway' all over the place. In fact, I often joked to myself that I was expecting there to be a link in the Appendix, a link to an online resource where you could read all about every person who was actually there that April day, a complete biographical history. (I'll add here that a great parody skit could be made of Mr. Winchester's habits in this area...although it would have limited appeal, so esoteric a subject, he would be...)

Having said that, I applaud his efforts. I now know so much more about this event than before. And feel I've also gained a ton of understanding about related elements of history, of society, of people in general. I feel my world has been delightfully expanded, courtesy of Mr. Winchester's tome.

But the book is woefully mis-titled.
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on December 21, 2008
Simon Winchester always gives an exhaustive review of his subject, and A CRACK IN THE EDGE OF THE WORLD CD: AMERICA AND THE GREAT CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE OF 1906 is no exception. A geologist by training, he follows up his other books on that theme -- KRAKATOA: THE DAY THE WORLD EXPLODED: AUGUST 27, 1883 (P.S.), THE MAP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: WILLIAM SMITH AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN GEOLOGY -- with this compendium on the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906

Winchester jumps off with the view of our planet from the moon, and launches into what he calls the New Geology. A quick preview of the earthquake in question, and then we move out of the prologue and into chapter 1: a catalogue of that very dangerous year, 1906; a year similar in the scope of its farflung disasters to 2004, which began with an earthquake in Iran and ended with the terrible Sumatran tsunami.

Before returning to San Francisco, Winchester elucidates the pioneers and principles of the New Geology; in a few words, Pangaea and plate tectonics. The pushmi-pullyu of giant plates grinding and subducting and spreading over the eons. Earthquake and volcano. He takes great pleasure in standing on the eastern edge of the North American plate, in Iceland, and then driving to the western edge at the San Andreas faultline. Along the way he mentions the strange phenomena that can occur in the middle of a land mass; think just-baked piecrust, wrinkling as it cools on a rack. But the main events are at the edges. When he reaches California there is the story of western settlement and land purchase, the explosive growth of San Francisco from its tent town days through the 1840s gold rush, and into the 20th century where he attributes to it a very rough-and-tumble reputation.

Finally, the earthquake; then the cleanup, and the political fallout, quite a lot about the Chinese Exclusion Act, the flight of artists from the Bay area, and his thesis that the growth of the Pentecostal religion was due to the earthquake. Then some information about the technology of predicting earthquakes. At last, 12 hours later if you listened to the audio as I did, the end.

I liked this book very much, and even enjoyed the listening (though I needed the actual book in hand to see the maps and photos, a real drawback in audio). That said, it had an unfocused feel to it. Winchester likes to cover a lot of ground -- in this case his travels, geology, the history of the planet and of California in particular, and a detailed but somehow impersonal telling of the earthquake story along with any cultural phenomena that followed in the next few decades. It's all somehow a bit too much, though it has a compelling flow to it, like lava down a slope, cooling and slowing and then being overtaken by another molten wave of well-crafted words.

You will have to judge whether this book is for you. It was a four-star "listen" for me, though not my favorite of his books. What can I say? I like the way the man writes.

Linda Bulger, 2008
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on April 5, 2012
This book is ostensibly about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but the reality is that it is a travelogue. Relatively little is about the earthquake itself, and he doesn't even mention the liquefaction that was so important. Winchester does his best to write as much as possible, many sentences when one will do. Some people may like this but I found the book a slog.

The author clearly expects the reader to know far more geography than the average person, whether it be international or local to California or San Francisco. More maps would have helped. I found a few errors and deduce there are likely to be many.
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on August 9, 2008
Excellent! One of Winchester's best works. This man researches his topics thoroughly. His style is dry English, yet it comes but very creative and entertaining. He delivers an immensely interesting read. Seems to have a nack for these subjects that time has forgotten, but were once events bigger than 9/11.
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on June 19, 2015
I approached this book with high hopes for it being a ripping yarn. Sadly so far it is a somewhat dull discourse describing the origins of California and the geography of the San Andreas fault among other things. Perhaps it will get better later but it's not in the same class as his earlier book on Krakatoa.
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on June 7, 2013
My wife bought this in PB and I read it.
I was completely taken by Winchester
(as I was in all his other books).
A great read. I wanted it in HC.
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on January 5, 2006
By midday - after I had picked up my copy of Simon Winchester's new book "Crack in the Edge of the World" at a place safely several hundred miles from the edge of what oddly-named "Tuzo" Wilson calls the "North" American Plate, and which may be located above a nexus of crustal faults which might millennia ago have jerked spasmodically much as the loaded freight train of the San Andreas Fault, and now known as my local post office -well, it was some seconds after noon. You have to put up with a lot of this sort of thing for a fascinating subject. Sadly on the few bits I do know about he was in error. Canada's diamonds are not in the accreted terranes of Yukon but in the craton of the Northwest Territories, and Canada's latest Territory Nunavut is not a Province. (Had to get my own back for his disparaging comments on fine Canadian towns like Watson Lake and Whitehorse.) I rather feel that given events following publication of Simon's previous book "Krakatoa", we might be justifiably apprehensive that Gaia is also reading his books and rumbling with mirth.
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