From Publishers Weekly
Firefighter turned author Smith (Report from Ground Zero
) performs an exhausting autopsy on the temblor and subsequent fire that devastated San Francisco 100 years ago. With 92 chapters, the narrative effect is one of a nervous cameraman trying to take in everything (the chapter on Enrico Caruso jumping from his bed at the Palace Hotel is one paragraph long) and managing to make a distant event seem even more remote. The author takes aim at the procedures of the official response and the chain of command, considers whether the army did more than the navy and presents "what-if" scenarios that will appeal most to students of how to manage a natural disaster. An "especially cruel irony" was the fact that saloons were ordered closed on the day of the fire, yet there, in bottles, jugs and kegs, "was undoubtedly enough wine to extinguish the early fires." Smith too often pauses to backfill the careers and family histories of various personalities or discuss the tectonics of earthquakes. His firefighter's-eye-view of the disaster will have a tough time competing with Simon Winchester's terrific A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
, due out in October. (Sept. 26)
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"An American epic, a masterwork.... Simth teaches so much we need to know. Simultaneously his literary skills mesmerize us. Best of all he inspires." ---Thomas Fleming, author of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I
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