Advance Review: A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, by Simon Winchester

Advance reading copy from the BEA - the book is scheduled to be released in October.

I found A Crack in the Edge of the World, by Simon Winchester, immensely disappointing. I read and enjoyed Krakatoa, and heard wonderful things about The Professor and the Madman. I was expecting more of the same quality non-fiction historical narrative. Alas, Crack just doesn't measure up. Winchester wanders and weaves like a drunk driver. First he starts off with a view of Earth from space; then dizzyingly, he swoops down to a close-up of a small Kansas town; from there he ranges from Iceland to Texas, from seismographs to oil pipelines, without ever really satisfying the palate. In Krakatoa, the material on plate tectonics and geology was an integral part of the topic. Sadly, in Crack, Winchester seems to think that the 'main character' of the San Francisco Earthquake is the San Andreas Fault. It's not; the main character of the San Francisco Earthquake is the city and its residents; both receive short shrift in favor of acres of pages about the shape of the faultline and exactly where in California it runs, what small towns it goes through, exactly what sequence of shifting continental plates produced it starting at the beginning of time, etc., etc., etc.

The fictional Sherlock Holmes pastiche I reviewed last week contained more (true) human interest stories about the San Francisco earthquake than did Crack. Winchester treats the human drama as something of a sideshow to the moving rocks and the result is intensely unsatisfying.

In addition, the book just seems under edited. It's sloppy and over-written. I was itching to get out my red pen. Footnotes abound, breaking the rhythm of the text unnecessarily - generally they either contain material that could easily go in the main body of the book, or is totally extraneous.

I can only imagine that Winchester and the publisher decided to rush this one out in order to take advantage of the 100th anniversary of the earthquake, coming up next year.

Not recommended.

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