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A Crack In The Edge Of The World (2006)

A Crack in the Edge of the World (2006)

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3.76 of 5 Votes: 3
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0060572000 (ISBN13: 9780060572006)
harper perennial

About book A Crack In The Edge Of The World (2006)

I have to say that I really do like this man’s books. I think the only reason I would read a book on Krakatoa is because Winchester wrote it. It is also very likely that the only reason I would read a book on an earthquake is because Winchester wrote it.Let me tell you what there is to love about this book.Firstly, Winchester starts off by talking about the Gaia Theory – essentially that everything is related to everything else. He does this because talk of earthquakes has only begun to make sense since we learnt of plate tectonics – that the continents float about the world on huge plates and that these rub up against each other and cause volcanos and earthquakes. And one of the most fascinating things about plate tectonics is that this idea has only been around in science since the 1960s. Think about that for a moment – that we have only had any real idea about the how and the way of volcanos and earthquakes for a little over forty years.Prior to the 1960s we also had a very localised view of how these catastrophic events happened. We really didn’t have any notion that an earthquake in Tokyo might impact on a volcano in Hawaii. We still have only hints about how these two events might be related, but the fact we can even seriously ask the question now ought to send a shiver down your spine. “What a piece of work is Man… in apprehension how like a God…”Gaia theory holds that the whole of the world is linked up by a series of complex and remarkable interconnections. And just to celebrate, Winchester writes his books in a way that brings to the fore layer after layer of beautifully observed relationships between earthquakes and racism and artists leaving for the hills and architecture and religion.When people say things like, ‘everything is related to everything else’ I generally feel a little uncomfortable in that ‘let me get out of this conversation as quickly as I can’ kind of way. There is a scene in Douglas Adams’s Dirk Bogart’s Holistic Detective Agency where Dirk is at a complete loss what to do next and so, figuring that everything is connected to everything else, he follows a car at random, which, naturally enough, brings him to where he needs to go. This is fiction after all.Winchester’s paths are never random. His relationships never fail to delight. His keen eye for both the fascinating and the absurd never fail him. I really am very fond of his books and this one is no exception.There is a part of this book where he is describing the horrific fire that started as the earthquake ended. This was a city ready to burn, and the quake bursting both gas pipes and water pipes beneath the city did much to strike that particular match. There is a photo in this book taken from the top of a hill. In the distance you can see the smoke billowing and being blown into the background of the picture. How Winchester explains what you are looking at and what is about to happen in the world of this photograph is one of those moments in a book that is a pure joy. He starts off by stating what we all think – that fires move in the direction that the winds blow them. Clearly, in this photograph, the wind is blowing towards the back, so that will be the direction the fire will go. He then points out that what is in the distance behind the scene in the photograph is water and already burnt buildings. It is then that he says that city fires not only make their own winds, but that they move in the direction of the fuel that is available – not always in the direction of the wind.One of the more fascinating connections with this earthquake was the start of the Pentecostal movement. The pastor who started the Pentecostal movement said, a mere three days before the quake and fire, that God was preparing a sign – and when God prepares signs, he provides the entire Burma Shave experience. The most Godless city in the United States virtually wiped off the map in one go. God does seem to have learnt his lesson though, as this time there are no wives being turned into pillars of salt and the only good man in the town didn’t end up getting drunk and doing a Fritzl with his two daughters. At least, at the time it seemed they only spoke in tongues – I’ve no idea when Pentecostals started getting down and dirty, but I assume it was a long time prior to when the Swaggarts and Bakers did their stuff.I liked this one very much, but then, I’ve enjoyed every one of his books so far.

Much of the discussion of tectonic theory and geology in Winchester's title on the Krakatoa eruption is not covered in this book for obvious reasons. I would recommend those with the interest to read that title at some point.A fair amount of this book covers not the actual aftermath of the earthquake which most people remember as the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 but rather events leading up to it and the nature of American and world geology.I'm not going to write a spoiler here but I will touch on some points as to why this is an interesting read. To us 100 years seems a lifetime away but in geological times it's pretty much just a heartbeat. When you talk about the '06 event or the 1888 Krakatoa event it is sort of like discussing something that happened in political news just yesterday, or earlier today. It requires a perspective adjustment to see it's significance. The Earth is not on our schedule it has a timeline all it's own.There is a great deal of research in the area of studying earthquakes but as yet no real way to know when and where one will hit. This book however gives you an idea of how they work and of the different types. Not all earthquakes are the same and his focus is on those occurring along the faults in North America. The book delves into events on the East Coast, the Midwest, and of course the West Coast. It also discusses the role of volcanism in North America including the Super Volcano that is Yellowstone National Park.Again the Gaia theory of a world that is essentially a big ecosystem or machine is touched upon. Winchester is not an apostle of this hypothesis rather he lays out cooly for the reader. Interesting in 1906 there were a number of significant geological events that occurred ranging from volcanic eruptions to major earthquakes in South America. Is the result of the continual churning of the continents as pressure is released in one area and built up elsewhere? Movement in one region of the world perhaps leading to slippage in another? It is an hypothesis.Without writing a spoiler I'll provide one very contemporary observation he touches on. In 2002 there was a major earthquake in Alaska that thankfully didn't hurt too many people as it may have. Interestingly a change was observed in the geysers of Yellowstone some 1500+ miles away. Normally erupting in a very precise timetable it has apparently been shown that the timing change at precisely the time the shockwaves came in from Alaska. Of course it doesn't matter where on earth you are or if you feel them, earthquake vibrations can be recorded.Interesting in that Yellowstone is one of roughly ten volcanoes known by the new term Super Volcano (coined by the BBC in the late 1990s I believe). To perk you interest more? If you have ever been to Yellowstone it's not like other volcanoes with the crater on top of mountain peak. The crater there is essentially an indentation in the tectonic plate, that is the entire park roughly 40 miles wide is the crater. The lava chamber stretches under three states. If it goes you have to think about a nuclear ice age type of thing.Oh and it's a thousand years overdue :)So just when you thought it was crazy to live in California and that a 1906 earthquake was an interesting but irrelevant historical fact right?The gist: the big earthquake also due in California could conceivably effect the magma chamber etc of the largest volcano in the Western Hemisphere if not the world.Another interesting note. We are seeing some effects of global warming in the weather. About 7/8 of the worlds tectonic plate surface is underwater. What effect might the warming of the oceans have on a interrelated system per the Gaia hypothesis. The amount of energy the warming creates is astounding. That last isn't in Winchester's book, just an observation of my own.

Do You like book A Crack In The Edge Of The World (2006)?

Winchester's latest work is a lesson in unfulfilled expectations. Though he presents the book as a history of the San Francisco quake, over the first 200 pages Winchester offers an abbreviated version of John McPhee's Annals of the Former World. Where McPhee made clear his intentions to write a comprehensive geological history of the North American continent, critics feel duped by Winchester, or by the publisher's marketing department. Many reviewers are dismayed to see him reusing information from Krakatoa (**** July/Aug 2003). Even more wish he'd return to the human elements that made The Professor and the Madman such a critical and commercial success. Here, exhaustive research begets a fault-filled book, with little human or thematic tension to bind it together.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.
—Bookmarks Magazine

Simon Winchester has elevated the language of science to the language of poetry. His eloquence will hold the attention of and also captivate the reader with his brilliant explanation of the formation of the earth, the ocean floor, the plates that shift and slide to wreak havoc or as he might say cause mischief in so many places. He describes such things as the molten lava “breathing” beneath our surface in such a way that you see the river of fire. He describes the movement of the faults so that you see them slipping and sliding under each other, layered irregularly atop each other, forming ridges like those in a carpet, as commonplace as a crease in a piece of fabric. He uses metaphors and similes to enlighten the reader and make the subject fluid rather than as arid as science can sometimes be for the layman. When Winchester likens the movements of the plates to a freight train stuck on the tracks with only the center moving outward, the reader can surely see the force of that pressure as it moves the front of the cars forward, finally, in a burst, resulting in the return of that bulge to the center, although in the front there may be concomitant damage; and when he describes the ripple that erupts in a carpet, sometimes, after walking on it repeatedly, the reader will see that “pleat”, as he calls it, forming a mountain one day as it continues to rise. When he describes the splitting water mains and the rupturing gas lines, the reader can feel the disaster in San Francisco approaching, along with the heat, strong tremors and fear, as well as the astonishment and wonderment also felt by some victims. Winchester brought the dry science behind an earthquake and other natural disasters to life. I could visualize the earth forming, the continents moving and the oceans spreading as the earth moved beneath me. With a vocabulary that has become obsolete in the pens of most writers, as they concentrate on sound bites and acronyms, he has mastered the art of prose, making often unfathomable subject matter less bone-dry with his use of language.Winchester speaks of Freud, Einstein, and Caruso in a casual manner as he creates the foundation for his story with vignettes that sometimes make the reader smile. He begins with the moon landing of Neil Armstong and tells the story of our magnificent planet. Viewing the earth from that bird’s eye view, he describes the inner core beneath the earth’s crust so well that you think you are listening to the secrets of a mystery novel that are slowly being fleshed out, when actually you are being presented with scientific facts. Traveling up and down the western coast of the United States, his explanations burst with information that are at once comprehensible rather than opaque. His research gleaned from journals, diaries and letters is impeccable and his knowledge coupled with his writing skill has made this a very enjoyable, informative read. I know that he placed me in San Francisco at the moment of the quake. I could almost feel the turmoil as the earth raged beneath its surface wreaking havoc above it.Today, the technology has improved so much that analysis is done by machines more often then people, but the first hand accounts did not contain the coldness of the machine, and therefore the story was connected to emotion. I learned of the reputation San Francisco had when it was born, I could see the cavalier attitude that prevailed, the indifference to any impending disaster, although there had already been some in the previous century. He even draws a relationship between the rise of radical faiths like Islam and Pentacostal Evangelists during catastrophic times, equating the catastrophes to a sign of G-d’s displeasure and a need for doubling down on their dogma. His analysis of the behavior of the insurance companies during the disaster is still relevant today! Although I cannot profess to have understood every word of this highly detailed and descriptive book, concentrating on the April, 17, 1906, San Francisco earthquake, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this author read his own book with just the right tone and emotion to capture my ear completely. The book is both entertaining and informative.

It has been a while a few books since I have actually written a review, so lets see if I can make it interesting?Have ever had that thing where you hear about a disease, say like myocardial infarction, and then you look at a stick of butter and all of sudden you are biting your lip, sweating, and debating on whether or not you should call 911? It’s call hypochondria. After reading this book, I got that for earthquakes. I look at the ground. I look at the fault behind my house. I look at crack in my drywall, and all of a sudden I imagine the earth shaking and my house tipping over like a fat kid on a seesaw. Although, since I live in the Bay Area, it’s not a matter of will it happen, it’s a matter of when it will happen--and apparently that’s soon.I picked up A Crack in the Edge of the World because I wanted to read something on Bay Area History, but what I got, and what I didn’t expect, was to be so interested in geology. Winchester argues the synthesis and interconnectedness of the world’s ecology, geology, and environmental systems. In essence, if earthquake hits Jakarta then Old Faithful might skip a minute. It’s an argument that on the surface seems rather simple, but in reality proof is scarce (mostly as a result of the lack of measurable data). For about half the book Winchester adeptly walks the laymen through this complicated geological story. The other half of the book, Winchester takes the reader into 1906 San Francisco. He capably utilizes primary source material and vividly creates the world. He paints streets and shows falling buildings and burning stoves. Not to my surprise, the history of the event coincides with my imagination. The earthquake strikes and fire ravages the city. People are ill prepared and the religious blame the ‘sinners.’ When it’s all over they rebuild with very little concern of it ever happening again. In addition to telling the overall story, the book’s greatest strength is that it offers the lesser known details. For example, the queen of China exerted political influence on the United States in order keep Chinatown centrally located and the epicenter (which he details a long story of coming to consensus) is located in Daly City. Winchester is a good writer and the book is an easy informative read. I lack enthusiasm only as this book follows the pattern of “why I rarely read non-fiction.” I feel like if I wanted to digest the book I could have in about thirty minutes. It repeats itself and spends whole chapter to make a simple point. Personally, unless there is something exceptional or a compelling human story (see Jon Krakauer), I tend to lose interest in “non-fiction” after I understand the methodology and get the “point.” So admittedly I bumbled through the end. But overall, I did enjoy the book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in geology, San Francisco history, or earthquakes.
—john Adams

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