Crack in the Edge of the World Hardcover – Oct 2005
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Geologically speaking, 1906 was a violent year: powerful, destructive earthquakes shook the ground from Taiwan to South America, while in Italy, Mount Vesuvius erupted. And in San Francisco, a large earthquake occurred just after five in the morning on April 18--and that was just the beginning. The quake caused a conflagration that raged for the next three days, destroying much of the American West's greatest city. The fire, along with water damage and other indirect acts, proved more destructive than the earthquake itself, but insurance companies tried hard to dispute this fact since few people carried earthquake insurance. It was also the world's first major natural disaster to have been extensively photographed and covered by the media, and as a result, it left "an indelible imprint on the mind of the entire nation."
Though the epicenter of this marvelously constructed book is San Francisco, Winchester covers much more than just the disaster. He discusses how this particular quake led to greater scientific study of quakes in an attempt to understand the movements of the earth. Trained at Oxford University as a geologist, Winchester is well qualified to discuss the subject, and he clearly explains plate tectonics theory (first introduced in 1968) and the creation of the San Andreas Fault, along with the geologic exploration of the American West in the late 19th century and the evolution of technology used to measure and predict earthquakes. He also covers the social and political shifts caused by the disaster, such as the way that Pentecostalists viewed the quake as "a message of divine approval" and used it to recruit new members into the church, and the rise in the local Chinese population. With many records destroyed in the fire, there was no way to distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, and thus many more Chinese were granted citizenship than would have otherwise been. Filled with eyewitness accounts, vivid descriptions, crisp prose, and many delightful meanderings, A Crack in the Edge of the World is a thoroughly absorbing tale. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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. (Oct. 4)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
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.
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. Read morePublished on Aug. 9 2008 by Ralph Muench
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