A Crack in the Edge of the World
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A Crack in the Edge of the World

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  3,547 ratings  ·  407 reviews
In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, San Francisco was overcome by the violent shocks of an enormous earthquake, registering 8.25 on the Richter scale. The tremors and rumbling, affecting a swathe of California more than 200 miles long, triggered a vast firestorm in the city, effectively destroying the gold rush capital that had stood there for half a century. Sim...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2005)
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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
300th out of 2,822 books — 4,770 voters
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Non-fiction Disaster Books
22nd out of 90 books — 115 voters


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Community Reviews

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Trevor
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...more
Matt
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
Grumpus
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
Shawn
Jan 23, 2008 Shawn rated it 2 of 5 stars
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...more
Richard
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...more
Schmacko
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
Andrew
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...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...more
James Peavler
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
Kevin
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
JZ Temple
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
Melissa
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...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...more
Dan
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...more
Sarah
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...more
Art
I simply MUST recommend this book. It is by one of my favorite modern writers of books, and it wraps itself around the intersection of history and geology, two of my favorite intellectual pursuits.

Now, I must confess, I did not actually READ this book. Instead, I had it read to me, by the author. I bought the set of CDs on sale at a geological convention I attended in Pittsburgh last year, wondering, "When will I get around to listening to these hours upon hours of words?" Well, despite the fact...more
Janet Gardner
I enjoyed this, rather a lot, though I have to confess I forgot a lot of what it contained within hours of reading it. I choose to blame the density and specificity of the information rather than my rapidly aging brain. Simon Winchester’s greatest gift as a writer is the same as his greatest weakness: he is so darn interested in just about every aspect of the world around him--geology, geography, politics, history, sociology, linguistics…you name it--that he tends to go off on rambling (though n...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
Breanne
While I was expecting this to be mainly about the events of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, there are several other central topics in this book. There is a lengthy discussion and explanation of geology, including the history of many of the geological disturbances here in the United States, with background going as far back as the earliest discernible movements of the earth's plates (and I didn't realize that is a very, very, very long way back. Like, WAYY past Pangea). There is also a leng...more
Trena
May 12, 2009 Trena rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Social Scientists who like science
Recommended to Trena by: Carrie
This is a very long, slow read. I must put that warning up front. The writing is quite good, but much more verbose than it needs to be. I hated the book for the first 50 pages or so until something the author wrote indicated he is British, and suddenly my anglophilia kicked in and I could tolerate his voice. After that, I quite enjoyed it.

The book examines the 1906 San Francisco earthquake from all facets. It provides an interesting survey of geology from the formation of the earth, the scientif...more
Curtis
Nov 27, 2007 Curtis rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: science, history
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...more
Durdles
A fascinating exploration of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the underlying wonky geology and the social history of victims and heroes of the most catastrophic event to hit a major American city. Simon Winchester takes a journey across the North American Plate from its eastern border in central Iceland to the fragile western join against the Pacific Plate against which it is continually grinding. The build up of pressure miles under the earth at the fault line gives suddenly somewhere ever...more
john Adams
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...more
Caroline
This book was not quite what I was expecting, or if I'm honest, hoping for. I was looking for a history of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. And this is that history, but only if you start about 150 million years ago. I suppose I was looking for a social history, and what I got was mostly a geological history!

I learned more than I ever wanted to about New Geology, seismology, plate tectonics, fault lines, slip-strike lines, seismographs - but what I really wanted was the personal histories,...more
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

...more
Diane
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
Chrystal Hays
I really enjoy Simon Winchester's work. That said, for some reason, I picked this book up 4 or 5 times before I really got "into" it...and once I did, of course, finished it the next day!

Like all his work, it's a wonderful blend of facts and trivia with a little bit of contemporary travel for contrast. This volume exceeded expectations in that it is about so much more than just one earthquake, and it gives a very clear picture of North America and earthquakes in general. The analogies used to e...more
Jemera Rone
Simon Winchester is such a talented transmitter of big important subjects in a comprehensible way that I am quite starting to like him. I selected this book to get some background on what was happening in 1906 USA because my great aunt's 1906 diary needs something to be added to my knowledge about that era in order to get it published. I learned much more than I bargained for about teutonic plates and geology --after 1960 it changed hugely and now we know we are sitting on huge plates of earth w...more
Janis
This book goes well beyond the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I learned about plate tectonics, events including the New Madrid quake (watch out midwesterners!), the settlement of the Bay Area, the '06 quake itself and its aftermath, and -- a new reason to stay awake at night -- the pending apocalypse centered at Yellowstone. The author did a great job explaining these fascinating and unsettling topics.
Barbara
I've frequently mentioned favorite Irish books, saying "If you've a drop of Irish blood in ye, ye must read this"! Well if you have a drop of San Francisco in you, this is a must read. There is a lot of somewhat boring geology but it all comes together in the end---or should a say it all comes apart in the end on the west coast of the US in 1906!
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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 publi...more
More about Simon Winchester...
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

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