If the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 makes you want to learn more, here are six ways to go and one way not to go.
Quite simply, the best treatment of this catastrophe in print. Philip Fradkin delivers a sweeping, definitive survey of the iconic American disaster that highlights its heroics and delves into the darker side of how the city's movers and shakers responded. In 1906 and after hurricane Katrina in 2005, the bedrock of human nature in the face of these events brought about very similar results. Fradkin's journalistic presentation of original material brings the quake to life from beyond the veil.
Susan Hough, a well-known USGS seismologist, takes you to the famous faults of California, including road directions to good exposures: the San Andreas, Sierra Madre, Raymond, Elsinore, San Jacinto, Garlock and more. She also teaches you about earthquakes, about faults and faulting, about quake prediction and modeling, about Californian and scientific history, and about the generation of scientists who are contributing to today's ferment in seismology. You'll want to hit the road to visit them all.
This book sets the gold standard for treatments of California's seismic side: the geology, geography, history and political significance of the state's earthquakes. Philip Fradkin presents not just the familiar cautionary facts and arguments, but also the peculiar sardonic attraction of California's state hazard and the effect of earthquakes on the state's landscape and inhabitants. He also takes you right to the fault trace in localities up and down the golden state.
In 1906, San Francisco authorities left building practices unchanged as the papers loudly downplayed the hazards. Today, the government enforces costly safety measures based on scientific knowledge. That profound change took generations of political activityby scientists. Carl-Henry Geschwind's scholarly study is a concise history of the science of earthquakes, a review of raw California politics, and practically a manual for the kind of quiet activism done by lobbyists and bureaucrats.
More a survivor's manual than a guide, Robert Yeats's book gives California citizens everything they need to take the fruits of science into their personal lives, homes, neighborhoods and the public arena. He masters the details of each California's many seismic regions; more than that, he explains how faults underlie the state's landscape, both physical and political. The non-scientific topics, covering insurance, engineering, history and policy, are uniquely valuable.
A hundred years later, the fault is still there, waiting for you to visit. David Lynch provides more information about finding this famous fault than anyone ever has beforenot just with detailed road logs, photos and maps, but also with enough sound geologic background for regular folks to get deep, long-lasting enjoyment from the journey. His Web site includes a unique interactive map to see the whole fault and its geologic signs from the air.
I don't recommend this book. Simon Winchester's "A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906" is a jackdaw's hoard of factoids strung like sequins along a circuitous treatment of geologic topics, written with inordinate self-indulgence. Where he ventures into geology he makes dozens of small errors. This book is not authoritative for anything beyond direct quotations and his own first-person stories, which are remarkable. This book is an example of a classic American literary formthe tall tale.