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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-06-057199-3

When my cousin George handed me this book, my first reaction was, what makes him think I'm interested in reading about the California earthquake? Not to mention that I've recently read two fictional accounts of the events surrounding the quake; Kage Baker's Children of the Company, and Laurie King's The Art of Detection both have significant portions of their stories taking place in and around the quake.

So, the book sat around for several months before I finally got around to using it as my “exercise book” on the stationary bike out in the garage where I spend 30 minutes most mornings before ablutions and breakfast. The book was actually more interesting than I had imagined, and once started, I didn't regret the journey.

In addition to telling the story of San Fransisco, both before and after the momentous destruction caused by the earthquake and subsequent fire, the author uses the opportunity to educate us on modern geology, namely plate tectonics. Now I have always taken plate tectonics for granted, albeit, I had only a surface understanding of how it all works. So I was surprised to learn that the theory was only developed in the mid-sixties, and is a relatively recent addition to modern science, considerably more recent than Einstein's theory of relativity, for instance.

But even the parts of the book that could pass for an elementary geology textbook are written in a sufficiently entertaining fashion that you don't mind learning your lessons in the process. Recommended for anyone who enjoys well written natural history, with a modicum of social history thrown in along the way. Should be required reading for all Californians!


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