California history is an interest of mine since I'm a Californian born and raised. This title caught my eye but when I started to read it, it caught in my throat.
I almost gave up reading it after (barely) getting through the introduction. This is a slim, 156 page book (7 pgs of bibliography and 5 pgs of index) with a medium sized font and generous amount of white space on each page, so you wouldn't think it would take all that long to read, and it didn't---it just seemed like it.
It's not that this is a bad book, but it does ride that thin line between informative and schlocky. The writing starts out not so good and improves marginally in later chapters. It does better when it imparts facts rather than conjecture.
In fact the first chapter, on the myth about California being an earthquake away from sliding into the ocean, is probably the worst chapter in the book, but it also accurately sets up just what type of book this is. This is from the 2nd half of the first paragraph:
"It is not about to do so any time soon, however, at least according to the world-renowned seismologists and geologists at the University of Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, and elsewhere, who are paid to know about such things. But are the experts right? Is California's seemingly shaky grip on the West Coast of the United States a permanent state of affairs? There are many who believe it is not." (p.1)
This is hokey writing at best. Further proof that this is not a book that is going to seriously explore and answer questions about anything is found in the very next paragraph, which goes on for far too long relating the story of an engineer acquaintance of the authors who says he won't visit California in anything but a helicopter, but has done so anyway. Lighthearted story? Sure, but it doesn't do the book, or chapter, any favors.
I could go on with how terrible the first chapter is---and I will! A few earthquakes are talked about, and the damage they caused, but no real insight into the "sliding into the ocean" question (since, I guess, scientifically there really isn't any question about it). The authors write about opera singer Enrico Caruso, who was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. Now, in the introduction the authors said Caruso sang out of the window to calm people down, but in the chapter itself this story isn't told and in fact is contradicted by Caruso himself, who is quoted at length by the authors from the singer's own essay about the earthquake.
Look, I'll say again this isn't a bad book, but it isn't very good. The other chapters are more interesting and sound more factually solid than the first chapter, but the authors do get in the way sometimes with their wordiness or their repetitive variations on "Well, I guess we'll never know" or "It's up to the reader to decide what really happened."
This is a great starting point for further (better) reading about some of the stories found here, but all in all it's a cheesy little read. Target audience: indiscriminating 9-12 year olds.