Monday, October 9, 2017

The Great Quake

Title:  The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet
Author:  Henry Fountain
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1101904062 / 978-1101904060

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Riding shotgun beneath the clouds in a rattling De Havilland Otter, George Placer gazed down upon an Alaska he's never seen before."

Favorite Quote:  "Of the thousands upon thousands of earthquakes that happen around the world every year - from imperceptible tremors to powerful shakes like the one that hit Lituya Bay - roughly one in sixteen occur in Alaska. That makes the state one of the most quake-intensive places on the planet."

One in sixteen earthquakes in the world occur in Alaska. Just think about that. One in sixteen. The strongest earthquake ever measured occurred in Alaska in March 1964. The earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter scale; that is before the scale broke because the earthquake was too strong to be measured. According to the US geologic survey, an earthquake of that magnitude causes almost total destruction at its epicenter with damage extending to far distances and changes in the land's topography that are permanent.

The Great Quake is the story of this natural disaster and how it changed science and how it impacted those who lived through it. Two things about this earthquake made it unique. The most obvious, of course, is its strength. The second is that, at that time, scientists did not know what caused the earthquake. It sent the Geological Survey on a scientific quest to determine the cause. What they found gave credence and credibility to the theory of plate tectonics. The science describes the structure of our planet and provide an explanation for natural events. The research done as a result of the Great Quake has forever changed this study.

Mind you, I find science fascinating but do not really look to read dry, scientific tomes. I find history fascinating, but, again, I look for the story of history more than a rote description of facts, figures, and timelines. This book satisfies on both counts. It contains science and history, but it is indeed a story.

The story of the people is front and center in this book rather than the science of the earthquake itself. Geology is explained, but this is not a book about geology. Again, it is a story of those whose lives changed because of this earthquake - Alaskan residents whose lives were literally upended by the earthquake, citizens who became heroes, and the scientists who rushed to study the events.

As a story, the book develops the "characters" if you with background information on their lives before and after the earthquake. In other words, this book goes beyond the quake both before and after. It anchors around George Plafker, the US Geological Survey scientist who was instrumental in the study of this earthquake. This past May, Geoge Plafker was awarded the 2017 Harry Fielding Reid Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Seismological Society of America (SSA). This award honors his lifetime contribution to the study of seismology, which stems in large part to the work he and the US Geological Survey team did in Alaska in the aftermath of the 1964 story.

In its style and approach, this book reminds me of Erik Larson's work. With eyewitness accounts, interviews, scientific information, and a narrative story-telling approach, this book makes for an engrossing and entertaining scientific history.

A note: The e-galley I received includes no images. I do not know if the print version does, but I hope it does for the images I have now looked up online give a whole new meaning to what the author manages to describe in words.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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