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A Crack in the Edge of the World

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  4,990 Ratings  ·  533 Reviews
s/t: America & the Great California Earthquake of 1906
Geologically speaking, 1906 was a violent year: powerful, destructive earthquakes shook the ground from Taiwan to South America, while in Italy, Mount Vesuvius erupted. And in San Francisco, a large earthquake occurred just after five in the morning on April 18--and that was just the beginning. The quake caused a co
Published April 6th 2006 by Penguin (first published January 1st 2005)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Nov 15, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”The planet very briefly shrugged

 photo Earthquake20San20Francisco201906_zpsu2sfg2ci.jpg
1906...the shrug.

We have all had those professors who have spent a lifetime sticking interesting facts into their heads. These facts may be pertinent to their particular line of enquiry for which they are considered an expert, or they might be random interesting tidbits of knowledge that have been squirrelled away for future research. They might even be just fascinating stories that may have very little to do with anything else.

Except of course that everything
The story of how I started reading this book begins outside San Antonio, as I guided my Subaru Outback onto Interstate-10, set the cruise control, and settled back for the long, empty ride to El Paso. It was August 2010, and my wife and I were midway through our Great 2010 Unplanned Battlefield Tour Road Trip Extravaganza. After visiting Shiloh, Vicksburg, San Jacinto and the Alamo, I acquiesced to my wife’s plea that we see the Grand Canyon since a) it was the Grand Canyon and b) it wasn’t a ba ...more
Apr 01, 2009 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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 sen
Aug 07, 2007 Grumpus rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
This one was tough to rate. I loved Simon Winchester’s books Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 (P.S.) and The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.) for their story-telling style. This one however, is written in a very scientific manner. Indeed, according to Amazon’s text stats, this book was written at 15.2 grade level as measured by Flesh-Kincaid readability—for comparison, Amazon indicates that only 9% ...more
I am 150 pages from the end of this tome, and you know what? I am going to DNF hard. I just dont care about it anymore. I really tried, I really did, but Winchester hasnt even started talking about THE ACTUAL EARTHQUAKE YET. I just have too many other books to read before I due to continue on with this self-absorbed shit.

This was my last attempt with Winchester. He simply isn't an engaging author. I find him pompous and his books horribly bloated and lacking in any energy, connection, or emotion
Jan 11, 2008 Shawn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Geology and Non-fiction buffs
Like a train wreck, I can't look away.
The 1906 earthquake that most notably affected San Francisco is a fascinating topic, and I like books with a bit of Science in them, but oh my god! could this author be any more of a pain in the ass? I just have to prove it with a couple of examples, but truly sir: Mr. Winchester, I implore you, where are your trustworthy editors? Nowhere, mon frere. Example One in my hypothetical thesis entitled "why Simon Winchester is a pain in the ass": in one paragraph
I hate these science books by Winchester, he wreaks havoc on my Book Challenge because I cannot zip through it. I have to slow down and really enjoy it. Yeah, giving A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 5 Stars for making plate tectonics interesting. Seriously. You don’t get to the San Francisco part of the story until page 230. The SF story is more interesting for the attempt by politicians and others to remake the 1906 event into a slight tremor ...more
This is a mostly delightful tour of geology, earthquakes and plate tectonics, with an emphasis on California's infamous San Andreas Fault and the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. I can highly recommend it.

Much to the delight of info gluttons, Winchester as always ranges widely from the nominal focus of the book. Any reader looking for an in-depth history of the whys and wherefores of the earthquake and fire will be more than satisfied, as well anyone wondering about the broader sur
James Peavler
Jun 13, 2012 James Peavler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This book only gets a three from me because I felt it was falsely advertised. As a Bay Area native, earthquakes have always held a strong fascination for me. I experienced a fairly large one in 1989, and my memories are still as strong today as they were then. So when I pick up a book that gives me an impression that its about the year 1906, and the seismic activity that occurred all around the world that year, ending with the ultimate seismic event near the shores of San Francisco, it was disco ...more
Nov 22, 2010 Schmacko rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Boy howdy, Simon Winchester sure knows his geology! And while he’s telling you about it, he’ll also throw in a long tangent about camping on Mount Diablo. And then he’ll tell you about the Gaia theory. And then he might get distracted by a story from his college days. And then he FINALLY arrives – 205 pages into this book – at the Great San Francisco Earthquake, the theme of this book. But then – and I want to strangle him for this - he’ll forsake all the human lives of the city and their storie ...more
Aug 12, 2007 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It takes Winchester nearly 100 pages to get into the meat of the story -- the 1906 Earthquake that destroyed San Francisco. Until then, we have to wade through tales of his Oxford days and camping on Mt. Diablo. A tough read that brings little joy -- although he does capture the sense of magic we all feel when discovering, and re-discovering, San Francisco.

Some exerpts:

"There is a tendency common to most of us to take the more modest of our landscapes for granted. We see a wide and fertile plai
JZ Temple
Aug 28, 2007 JZ Temple rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Now I'm surprised to see so many people who didn't like this book, but I'm guessing it's more a matter of style. Winchester certainly does take his time getting to the San Francisco part of this book but it is "America and the Great California Earthquake...", and like his previous book on Krakatoa he does like taking the discussion far afield. However, it's the kind of book I like, much more about "why" and "how" rather than "who" and "when". I would recommend it, especially if you liked "Krakat ...more
Curtis Edmonds
Let us suppose that you are to take a flight from New York to California. You book the flight, make time to head out to the West Coast, and make your way to JFK. Only when you arrive, you find that your flight had been cancelled. The only flight available is out of Newark Airport, and it routes through some airline hub out in the middle of the country – Houston or Dallas or Chicago or Cincinnati, take your pick.

So you get on a shuttle bus and head for Newark, and board your new flight, and settl
This book is a bit slow and meandering, with more geological factoids than I needed to know, but still I enjoyed it.

I lived in sparkling San Francisco for a summer, on beautiful Beach Street, which took a hit during the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. But that recent quake was nothing compared to the 1906 disaster Winchester portrays here. He bases his account on first-hand journal entries, letters, diaries, newspaper articles by James Hopper, and the bleak photographs that made Genthe famous.

Dec 04, 2008 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Wow, Mr. Winchester had a lot of time on his hands. I was expecting a different book, more concise regarding the earthquake in San Fran in the early 20th century. I wasn't expecting to learn about the Louisana purchase, and the myriad other little details that he discusses. It seemed as if in every CD the author goes off on a tangent. My wife listened in on a couple of CD's and without me prompting her, made the comment "this guy is all over the place." The last third really gets down to busines ...more
Great book!
I bought it for my 9th grader to read as part of her homeschooling program, but I read it before her. At first I thought I would never get through it. His writing is stilted and boring at the beginning, even as he describes the miracles of our astounding planet. And because I am not a student of geology, I was falling asleep over the technical talk.
Soon he picks up speed and his language starts to flow, I start using my dictionary to gain an understanding of his geology terms, and we
Oct 31, 2016 Colleen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book made me unexpectedly angry. For starters, the cover is a fucking lie--as is the flyleaf--all 6 paragraphs about the SF Earthquake with but one clue I see now for what was in store for me: "But Winchester's achievement is even greater: he positions the quake's significance along the earth's geological timeline and shows the effect it had on the rest of twentieth-century California and American history."--because yeah, he sure as hell tries to do that. For starters this book is NOT about ...more
Marika Alexander
I have to first start out by saying I'm not a science-y person by any means, so a lot of his book went over my head, even though it's written for a layman. On the positive side, it is chock full of information about earthquakes: what causes them, why and when they happen, what each of the waves feels like, and some of the worst historical earthquakes and the damage they wreaked on human beings, structures and geography. It's also full of very interesting details about the San Francisco earthquak ...more
Beth Cato
I read this book for research purposes. While I did fill it with sticky notes and found the read overall quite rewarding, I was also left with a strong sense that it could have been a much better book.

Winchester is a very knowledgeable fellow. The book is framed around his own travels to places like Iceland and then across North America, from Charleston, to New Madrid, and on westward to San Francisco. His goal is to explore tectonic theory and how the San Andreas Fault fits into the larger sche
Aug 08, 2013 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Winchester's exhaustive look at the geology behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was quite edifying, but it was a bit short on the drama of the event itself and the aftermath.

I've been looking for a good book on the disaster for a little while now, and when I came across A Crack in the Edge of the World I was thrilled. I'd read Winchester's Atlantic a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. However, the jacket copy is a bit misleading here. True, the book is about the 1906 earthquake, but I was
Oct 02, 2009 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-stuff
I had really high hopes for this book. . .
I loved his earlier book, The Professor and the Madman
Generally speaking, I enjoy disaster history (Isaac's Storm, The Children's Blizzard, etc).
But the science bits, explaining plate tetonics and exactly what kind of earthquake hit San Francisco in 1906 too far too long. I ended up skimming quite a bit of it, something I rarely do. His trip across the US, checking out fault lines, also got skimmed.
The stuff about the actual disaster was good--there jus
Bookmarks Magazine

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 f

Ok.... this book is NOT about the San Francisco earthquake. Well... at least the first half isn't. That's as far as I made it. I put this book down 4 times to read others, so I gave it a go. The first half of this book is plate tectonics lesson along with a journal of the authors travels to plate tectonics related areas in western North America. NOT about the earthquake! This man is obviously very intelligent and should be a science professor if he isn't already. I bought this book to learn abou ...more
Sprawling. Long-winded. Full of rabbit trails, non-sequiturs, detours, ramblings, and tangents.

Winchester talks about geology, the California gold rush, history in Iceland, insurance companies, immigration, even other earthquakes. Only more than half way through the book does he finally get around to talking about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

His writing isn't engaging enough for me to happily wait for him to get around to the main point. As a result, I started tuning out sometimes, not car
Simon Winchester is such a pain. He selects wonderful topics to write about and as long as he keeps himself out of the book, it can be wonderful. This one is pretty bad. I almost quit listening (he reads the book which isn't good)but am glad I endured the first three chapters or so because the information on the earthquake itself and its aftermath is pretty interesting. There were at least three things I would like to learn more about: the cattle stampede during the earthquake, Angel Island, and ...more
Nov 09, 2007 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I LOVE Simon Winchester. The guy's voice is like audiobook crack: he's British and he's perfect. If you want to read his other works, definitely listen to them. Start with Krakatoa; it blew my mind.

This book is almost as good as Krakatoa. I learned a lot and couldn't believe how my public school education failed to educate me on history. I did get a little bored on the 9th CD, but the 10th picked up when he recounted his trip to Alaska and then back to Yellowstone. Certainly a must-read... or be
Jan 31, 2016 Tara rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Okay. Read the blurb for this book and tell me--what do you think this book is about? The 1906 earthquake maybe?

Well, we'll see. Let's check out the first sentence:

Some while ago, when I was half-idly browsing my way around the Internet, I stumbled across the home page of an obscure small town in western Ohio with the arresting name of Wapakoneta.

He goes on to paint the town as a quaint, worried old man or woman taking pride in their mechanical work and sucking their teeth with worry over "such
Feb 23, 2015 thewanderingjew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 27, 2007 Curtis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: history, science
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 w
john Adams
Feb 09, 2010 john Adams rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
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Book Club Questions 5 22 Dec 10, 2012 01:16AM  
  • When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes
  • San Francisco Is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires
  • Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938
  • Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America
  • Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History
  • Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew
  • Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 (P.S.)
  • The Great Hurricane: 1938
  • Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
  • Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier
  • The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche
  • The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy
  • Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum
  • Sinking of the Eastland
  • Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
  • The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
  • The Johnstown Flood
  • Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe
Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more
More about Simon Winchester...

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