In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, San Francisco and a string of other towns were overcome by an earthquake registering 8.25 on the Richter scale, resulting from a rupture in the San Andreas fault. 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, and effectively destroyed the gold rush capital that had stood there for a half century.
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 but what we have learned since about the geological underpinnings that caused the earthquake in the first place. A Crack in the Edge of the World is the definitive account of the San Francisco earthquake and a fascinating exploration of a legendary event that changed the way we look at the planet on which we live.
©2005 Simon Winchester; (P)2005 HarperCollins Publishers
"In this brawny page-turner, best-selling 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." (Publishers Weekly)
Learned to love audiobooks when I was commuting two to three hour a day. I still love listening to a good book, even when I prefer a printed version.
As he did with "Krakatoa", Winchester follows seemingly unrelated, meandering paths which all converge in San Francisco in April, 1906. He sets the stage with a discussion of the geologic history of the North American continent, traces the development of San Francisco from a rough camp to a city and brings to life many of its more colorful citizens. As was the case with "Krakatoa", the author reads his own work and thereby enhances it. His enthusiasm for his topic radiates through the pages, but his delivery is so well polished that the book suffers not one whit from the choppier readings often encountered by narrators who are not professionally trained in voice. This was a great book and a great listening experience.
Winchester can turn a phrase, but he doesn't succeed in creating a worthy book about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He spends so much time detailing the history of geology, America, California, and San Francisco, that the earthquake doesn't even happen until the second part of the download. You might think all this additional information weaves a fabulous introduction to this horrendous event, but he bites off more than he can chew. The coverage of these many (many) ancillary areas winds up being superficial. Then, when he actually gets to the earthquake itself (after an eternity), it seems like he spends a lot of time citing boring statistics. I was hoping for more personal accounts. His idea of personal accounts is describing how a half dozen or so individuals determined the precise time of the earthquake, down to the second. The portion of the book devoted to the actual quake is really small, after which he again goes off on more superficial commentary on such topics as the immigration challenges of the Chinese.
The last 18 minutes is an interview with Winchester (which is also available on Audible as a free download). I recommend that you just listen to that instead, as it is a relatively pithy recount of the book.
If you simply must download this book, consider starting on Part 2.
The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is that I try to reserve 5 stars for the very best and the book would be dry for some people with the geology. I have read or listened five or six other Simon Winchester books and have enjoyed all of them. I enjoy his combination of science, history, sociology and travel.
The geology in the book was powerfully described and extremely interesting. As someone who lived in the Bay Area for more than 20 years and experienced the 1989 quake, I found the attitude in this book offensive. A key message of the book -over and over and over again- is that people shouldn't be living near or on the San Andreas fault. Has he considered the probabilities of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis? Where would he have us all live? He showed a complete lack of empathy for those living in the Bay Area in 1906 or 1989.
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