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San Fransisco Earthquake [Paperback]

Simon Winchester
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 April 2006
A burgeoning new city is built on the dreams of the American gold rush. It is also built upon a landscape that has been stretching, sliding and breaking apart for a millennia. In 1906 the dreams of the city came crashing down.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (6 April 2006)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141016310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141016313
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 11 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 957,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied Geology at Oxford University. He is the author of 'Atlantic','A Crack in the Edge of the World', 'Krakatoa', 'The Map That Changed the World', 'The Professor and the Madman', 'The Fracture Zone', 'Outposts', 'Korea', among many other titles. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Product Description


'Captivatingly readable . . . written with a passion and intelligence that make it compelling' -- Independent on Sunday

'Exhilarating . . . Winchester is beguiling, hugely entertaining . . . an enthusiastic guide to this mayhem' -- Bernard Cornwell, Mail on Sunday

‘Engrossing, fascinating. Winchester combines a gift for storytelling and a passion for geology to compelling effect’ -- Time Out

‘Fascinating reading, lucid, revealing. Stands on its own as an informative and enjoyable book’ -- Literary Review

‘Gripping first-hand accounts, a vivid account of the city, fascinating stuff’ -- Daily Telegraph

‘The scientific, geological, human and political stories behind the San Francisco earthquake. Read it and shiver’ -- Herald

‘Wide-ranging, gripping, fascinatingly described’ -- Sunday Telegraph --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

A bestselling author in both Britain and America, Simon Winchester was born and educated in England and now lives in Massachusetts. Having reported from almost everywhere during more than thirty years as a foreign correspondent, he now contributes to a variety of American and British magazines and newspapers. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
So far as the ancients of China are concerned, 1906 was a year of the Fire Horse - a time of grave unpredictability that comes along every six decades, and a time when all manner of strange events have the mind to occur. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shake and bake in California 23 Nov 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Describing an earthquake isn't easy. Too many bizarre things are happening simultaneously. Building rafters groan mournfully. Massive objects twist or shift position while fragile ones remain contentedly in place. In still air, trees sway alarmingly, perhaps shedding leafs. Fireplace chimneys will jump from a row of houses, sprawling across lawns and gardens. When calm returns, you will hear the inevitable question: "Did you feel that?"
Simon Winchester hasn't felt it, relying on others for description. The feeling of an earthquake, however, is less important to him than its causes and effects. In this sweeping account of the Great San Francisco and Fire of 1906, he ranges from the global movement of continental plates to the precise location of the actual spot where the rocks slipped in that April morning. San Francisco is but one city located in that violent circuit around the Pacific Ocean known as the Ring of Fire. From Tokyo to Valparaiso, places Winchester notes have had their share of destructive 'quakes, the surface of our planet is in constant motion. He recounts how the movement builds up pressure which is suddenly released to achieve a temporary equilibrium. Still, it wasn't the moving rock that destroyed much of San Francisco, but the fires that raged unchecked for four days as firemen remained helpless without water to combat them.
Winchester's depiction of the Earth's structures and their travels is interrupted by a detour of the history of the city. Fuelled by the Gold Rush, The City [it's always referred to in capitals by natives] grew at an astonishing rate. Originally a Spanish, then Mexican, community, the 49ers overturned the traditional lifestyle by sheer force of numbers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 24 Sep 2006
I could hardly put this book down; for me it communicated clearly and with some force a complex web of related issues. I teach geology, and found explanations of plate tectonics and much more here in a form that was accessable but not simplistic. Thankfully, Winchester paints a detailed context, geologically but also socially, culturally and economically for the 1906 event and, disturbingly, for the consequences of future natural disasters. What more could be asked?

Perhaps there could have been more on the 'quake itself, particularily the aftermath (as presented in a recent TV documentary) and the consequences of that for San Francisco. Not quite a tour de force, but in many places approaching it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Peasant TOP 100 REVIEWER
A lot of people have clearly rated this book highly, and it came to me from a friend who said it was "very good", so I feel a bit mean giving it two stars. I read it with care, but cannot say I really enjoyed it. The author has a degree in geology, and writes with the aim of giving us an entertaining and informative experience. Unfortunately, I don't feel it really comes off, for several reasons.

Winchester's journalistic style, when it works, is good, and he teases us in the first few pages with some nice snippets of first hand experience of the San Franscisco earthquake, before taking us off for an extended explanation of the geology of plate tectonics, with special reference to the San Andreas fault. This is a theme he returns to several times later in the book, and the human narrative of the quake and its aftermath - in itself fascinating - is interspersed with a broad palette of seismological details. With tighter editing, this could have been an excellent way of keeping our attention. For me, however, there were too many self-indulgent travelogue-style or autobiographical digressions, which added little to our appreciation. The book could have lost at least 50 pages, and been the better for it.

Others might find this personal stuff interesting, so that is purely a matter of taste. However, I also found the geological explanations far from lucid. I have a reasonable layman's understanding of plate tectonics, gathered from other reading and television documentaries - probably as much as many other readers will have. Without this background, I would have found his explanations pretty impenetrable, especially as the pictures are poor and thin on the ground.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book was not quite what I was expecting, or if I'm honest, hoping for. I was looking for a history of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. And this is that history, but only if you start about 150 million years ago. I suppose I was looking for a social history, and what I got was mostly a geological history!

I learned more than I ever wanted to about New Geology, seismology, plate tectonics, fault lines, slip-strike lines, seismographs - but what I really wanted was the personal histories, the experiences of people who lived through the quake, the impact on the community, the rebuilding, the tragedies, the triumphs. There is some small element of this, but not enough for my tastes. The actual quake doesn't even hit until page 201!

That Winchester managed to keep me reading that long, that I not only read this but read it in a matter of days and still enjoyed it, despite all the geology, is testament to his skills as a writer. I've read a number of his other books, and he is truly an excellent writer and historian - he manages to make what in other hands might be an immensely dull read relatively engaging, and that's a real gift.
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