By Simon Winchester
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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The bestselling author of Krakatoa and The Professor and the Madman turns his formidable story-telling talents to the earthquake that destroyed San Francisco on April 18, 1906. Exploring the disaster both from a dispassionate, scientific point of view and through first-person accounts from survivors (legendary tenor Enrico Caruso was particularly traumatized), Winchester doesn't limit himself to the quake: The book is a travelogue of the author's recent trip across the North American plateā€”the gigantic shelf of rock that supports the continental U.S., Canada and Alaska. As he moves from Iceland (the plate's eastern edge) to the San Andreas fault, Winchester explores tantalizing bits of current geological thought, including the shape of the continents pre-Pangaea, how Yellow-stone National Park is actually the caldera of an enormous supervolcano, and when California should expect the Big One (some time before 2032). He doesn't lose track of the human toll caused by natural disasters along the way. "Though cities may on occasion lose their heart," he writes, "they seldom lose their soul; and San Francisco was no exception. All that its shattered, wearied, and suddenly impoverished citizens needed was leadership, someone to...show them the possibilities of remaking the place that they had called their home." Given recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, Winchester's book serves both as a warning and an inspiring tale of human perseverance.

NOVEL

  • Contributors:
  • Jonathan Durbin,
  • Asra Nomani,
  • Natalie Danford,
  • Sue Corbett.