Natural disasters have long been a source of endless fascination for me, starting when I was a child. No surprise then that books like this continue to interest me as an adult.
The book focuses on California and the San Andreas Fault and the information contained within it is not entirely new. Everyone knows the fault is massive, and has spawned countless secondary faults, many just as potentially deadly as the big one. Yet people live over the fault. People drive across it everyday on one or more of the dozens of highways and interstates. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles sprawl out over the fault - and no one seems keen to move away any time soon.
I found this to be an easy enough read, no science background required. yet still well-researched and in-depth as well, thoroughly explaining the geology needed to understand the San Andreas Fault. We are also given a history of the area and pertinent people, such as Andew Larson, the UC-Berkeley prof who named the fault in the late 1800s and Charles Richter, who developed and refined the scale we still use today to measure these beasts.
It is interesting to compare the jump in knowledge from the 1906 SF earthquake, to nearly 60 years later when plate tectonics were discovered. Up until that time, scientists believed that underground volcanoes caused the earth to move. Needless to say, the science has come a long way since then.
But even so, it has not come far enough, and I don't know that it can. We still can't predict earthquakes, and it is possible we will never be able to. Major earthquakes will continue to happen. But don't expect California to one day just go floating off into the Pacific Ocean. Instead the author maintains that the San Andreas Fault and all of its offshoots are actually pulling California apart. Between the fires and the earthquakes, California doesn't stand a chance.
I did not realize this was an older book, published in the 1970s. Even as a I read it, it seemed as if it were a more recent publication, while at the same time also reading as though it was an eyewitness reporters account. Not too shabby to make a reader believe to completely opposite things at one time.
The authors make fantastic use of sources not previously available to the public. They acquired documents from insurance companies, the Red Cross, the military, and also collections of eyewitness accounts of those who managed to survive one of the worst disasters in US history.
As with any other catastrophic event, there are heroes and villains. It will surprise no one that the powers that be were incapable of handling a disaster of this magnitude for a couple reasons - they were corrupt beyond reproach and had no idea what the hell they were doing.
Just as the title says, this truly is a minute-by-minute accounts, from those first terrible seconds in the early morning of April 18th, beginning at 5:13 AM. The book moves quickly and the reader can only hang on for the ride as we move quickly through the city, witnessing the horrors of that day and the aftermath of the fires raging.
One thing I also really appreciated was the interviews the authors did with survivors. It must have been quite difficult for them to share their stories, but I am so glad they did. They gave a depth to the story, sharing their grief over such an awful experience.
Our planet would not be what it is today, giving us life, were it not for natural disasters. We need them for our home to flourish and without these life-giving forces, our planet would die and so would we.
If we were not so arrogant, and did not think that time and time again we could thwart Mother Nature, these disasters would not so often result is huge losses of life.
Yet here we are, living on super active fault lines, building cities below sea level...you get the idea.
This book looks at several incredibly devastating disasters that have impacted humankind. From Pompeii to Katrina, there are many here that prove that not much has changed, and we still think we are in charge.
We know that our world is changing. As climate change continues to wreak havoc, we must learn from past mistakes. Temperatures are rising around the world, ice caps are melting, eventually major life changes are going to start happening for a lot of people living on the coasts. All kinds of natural disasters are getting worse, and will continue to do so. It doesn't have to be this way though, if we could just take five seconds to learn from our past.
The author does a fantastic job examining each natural disaster, then exploring how each impacted society dealt with the aftermath - what they did differently, what they predicted, what they got wrong. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours.