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Publisher's Summary

The first indication of the prolonged terror that followed the 1906 earthquake occurred when a ship steaming off San Francisco's Golden Gate "seemed to jump clear out of the water". This gripping account of the earthquake, the devastating firestorms that followed, and the city's subsequent reconstruction vividly shows how, after the shaking stopped, humans, not the forces of nature, nearly destroyed San Francisco in a remarkable display of simple ineptitude and power politics. Bolstered by previously unpublished eyewitness accounts and photographs, this definitive history of a fascinating city caught in the grip of the country's greatest urban disaster will forever change conventional understanding of an event one historian called "the very epitome of bigness".

Philip Fradkin takes us onto the city's ruptured streets and into its exclusive clubs, teeming hospitals and refugee camps, and its Chinatown. He introduces the people - both famous and infamous - who experienced these events, such as Jack and Charmian London, Enrico Caruso, James Phelan, and Abraham Ruef. He traces the horrifying results of the mayor's illegal order to shoot-to-kill anyone suspected of a crime, and he uncovers the ugliness of racism that almost led to war with Japan. He reveals how an elite oligarchy failed to serve the needs of ordinary people, the heroic efforts of obscure citizens, the long-lasting psychological effects, and how all these events ushered in a period of unparalleled civic upheaval.

This compelling look at how people and institutions function in great catastrophes demonstrates just how deeply earthquake, fires, hurricanes, floods, wars, droughts, or acts of terrorism can shape us.

©2005 Philip L. Fradkin (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • J
  • 10-20-16

whoa! tons of info; amazingly detailed

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Sean
  • BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States
  • 12-10-12

Slightly too much information

I liked the book because it delves into the facts and stories of the 1906 natural disaster but the author presents more information than is necessary to make his point. This causes the book to falter at several points.

He does a good job of going back to original source material and eyewitness accounts to paint a vivid picture of the earthquake and firestorm. However, when talking about how inept use of dynamite made the fires worse he goes on for page after page describing how this building at this intersection was demolished on Thursday at 9:30 AM and then another building at another address was blown up at 12:45...There are other areas where the details become similarly tedious. For example, he goes into great detail about a corruption trial that involved several key city leader but had little effect on "how SF nearly destroyed itself."

The information is well researched and I suspect even a native SF reader will find surprises. The performance is solid and well paced.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Susie
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 11-28-12

Chaos, Not the Earthquake, Destroyed San Francisco

This is the thrilling account of the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco that literally set the whole town on fire. Author Philip Fradkin argues that most of the damage was done by “people in chaos,” not by the earthquake itself. This book uncovers all the things I didn't learn in 4th grade.

Told in a "you're there as it happens" narration, the stories of the depraved things people did to each other wouldn't seem out of place on AMC's The Walking Dead.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful