978-0-520-22119-2 / 0520221192

Magnitude 8: Earthquakes and Life along the San Andreas Fault

by Fradkin, Philip L.

Publisher:University of California Press



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About the book:

"The tectonic history of any one part of the earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror." With this quotation from geologist Derek Ager, Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental journalist Philip Fradkin, "a literary geologist with a notebook in one hand and a hammer in the other," begins his trip along the San Andreas Fault. His persistent question is how "a culture could ignore this powerful natural agent while simultaneously being shaped by it." Fradkin himself lives near the fault, and he understands the human reluctance to remember the past and to prepare for the inevitable. He looks at the history and impact of the major California earthquakes of the past 150 years, from Fort Teijin in 1857 to Northridge in 1994. Throughout, he exposes the problems caused by human shortcomings: the amnesia of the general public, earthquake engineers' conflicts of interest, and the failures of science. His discussions of the politics of earthquake prediction and of the "arcane systems" used to measure earthquake magnitudes are the best in print. "I wanted others to be aware of the fault's physical presence and its awesome power," Fradkin writes. He may also succeed at raising Californians' awareness of how to prepare for earthquakes--and at shortening their feelings of boredom while lengthening their periods of prudent terror. --Mary Ellen Curtin

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