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San Francisco Is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires Hardcover – September 22, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (September 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034420
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"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 --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Once for the story and again for all the history.
Cindy Luce
Author Dennis Smith is a firefighting historian who here examines the fires which devastated 1906 San Francisco as much as the earthquake.
Midwest Book Review
Anyone wanting to know what it was like day to day would enjoy the pages of this book.
J. London

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By James Dalessandro on November 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It might be highly unusual for a supposed "competitor" to review the work of a contemporary, but seeing that only one person on Amazon has bothered to review Dennis Smith's compelling new book, "San Francisco Burning," I thought it incumbent to offer praise where it is richly deserved. For that past three decades -- ever since the first defintive text, Thomas/Witt's "The San Francisco Earthquake" and Gladys Hansen's unparalleled "Denial of Disaster" first appeared -- every writer on the subject of the great earthquake and fire has claimed to have the "untold" story and discovered some "breakthrough" evidence. It hasn't happened. But what Dennis Smith has achieved here is remarkable for its insight and observation. More than any other book, perhaps, Smith has identified the true heroes and villains of the 1906 earthquake. There were actually two disasters: nature's earthquake and humankind's raging inferno. Smith, a former N.Y. firefighter who wrote the marvelous "Report from Ground Zero", takes a street-level, in-the-trenches view of what occured. He adroitly argues that the true hero was Lt. Frederick Freeman of the U.S. Navy, who led a hundred sailors on Navy Tugboats in a desperate, three day struggle to save the waterfront and the trains station, the two locations which evacuated 300,000 people in just 72 hours. Smith puts the final dagger into the two former sacred cows of the disaster: the monstrously corrupt and incompetent Mayor Eugene Schmitz, and the almost pathologically intractable Brig. General Frederic Funston.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By BookAddict44 on December 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I just posted a review of Simon Winchester's "Crack In The Earth", which took me weeks to plow through, and came here to offer my comments on Dennis Smith's book. This is the vastly superior effort, one that really focuses on the disaster, one that has the courage to rip into the men who contributed to the horrors of 1906 -- Mayor Eugene Schmitz and General Frederick Funson -- whose efforts hastened the city's demise and caused sections that might have survived to be burned. I have always been a fan of Dennis Smith's: his "Report From Ground Zero" is as engaging and harrowing as any thriller. Smith actually manages to do the impossible: he brings up events and elements of this story that no one else has. He focuses on how the United States Navy actually stopped the fire in many places, only to have the Army start the fire again with the monstrously inept use of granulated dynamite. Smith even points to a warehouse where millions of gallons of wine were stored, and pumping equipment to move the wine was available, across the street from one of the most destructive fires in the tenement section of San Francisco. This may well be the last book on the subject, every one of which I have read. I plowed through this one in two sittings, staying up into the wee hours to find out what happened next. It was a joy after the tedium of "Crack In the Earth." I just wanted to say "thanks" for closing the book on earthquake books with a "bang."
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By W Boudville HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For the historically inclined, Smith manages to wonderfully recreate a San Francisco that he and we have never experienced. But through extensive research and adroit storytelling, he makes San Francisco of 1906 come alive. You can feel the chaos and terror induced by the earthquake and subsequent fires.

But the sheer vitality of the city's inhabitants shines through. Something to well remember when [not if] there is the next quake.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dom Miliano VINE VOICE on March 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I love San Francisco and I am fascinated by historical accounts of great events. When I found this book, I grabbed it without doing any reviews on Amazon (happily, your reviews are dead on). I am not a "fire fighter junkie" but admit to an attraction to this life and death occupation. Also, one of my college profesors did his Phd. thesis on the NYC fire department so I understand the author's passion for the subject.

I was fascinated to learn that the earthquake did much less damage than the fires. That's something that most people I know never knew (and I have a lot of San Francisco friends). The role the army played (to quote a famous mayor) in "preserving disorder" was a mixture of frustration and anger. I also was shocked that there were so many "mercy" killings (talk about an oxymoron) and killings of people accused of looting. I wasn't very surprised by the reports of political corruption but maybe that's due to having been raised in Hudson County, NJ?

But one of the most uplifting parts of the book was the way the average man and woman in the street pitched in and made a supreme effort to save lives and property in the face of adversity and out and out obstruction by the army. These folks displayed the best attributes of what makes America great.

Naturally,the fire fighters get a very favorable review and based on the facts, justifiably so. I admire their work but I know I am not brave enough to do their job - that's maybe the highest praise I can offer.

In the final chapters Mr. Smith paints a dark picture of our current level of preparedness for the next big earthquake and fire. I fear he is understating the problem (the people in New Orleans know that being prepared is vital).

This is a great read - not just for history buffs only.
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