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A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate Paperback – July 27, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

California's vulnerability to earthquakes, although internalized by its citizens as a dread of the Big One, seems to be virtually ignored as developers continue to build in all directions, even atop faults and landslide-prone mountains. This narrative by the late author combines a history of Los Angeles' and San Francisco's growth with a lurid scenario of what the San Francisco Bay Area will look like after the Pacific plate lurches northward a few feet. Reisner ends the book imagining a collapsed Bay Bridge; a destroyed Oakland and UC-Berkeley campus; a burning Richmond; and serial destruction of BART, highways, aqueducts, and airports. It is likely the author planned to write a like scenario for L.A.'s day of doom, but even so, Reisner's work of warning effectively reminds us of the vast infrastructure required to sustain these two megalopolises. As befits the author of Cadillac Desert (1986), Reisner highlights the vulnerability of water supplies, a point that will attract environmentalists to this work, as well as anyone who just likes a scary story. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Reisner manages the nearly impossible feat of explaining geopolitical history, hydro-engineering, plate tectonics and comparative seismology in an engaging, delightfully literate fashion. This important book will appeal to many, including those outside the Golden State. Environmentalists will naturally go for it, but Reisner's witty, concise prose will attract general readers, too." —Publishers Weekly

"This posthumous work by the author of the award-winning Cadillac Desert is a fitting tribute to his environmental concerns and the power of his writing." —Library Journal

"Nothing Stephen King has ever written is nearly as frightening." —The San Diego Union-Tribune


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142003832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142003831
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #762,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a great guy Marc Reisner was. He wrote A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate as he was dying of cancer, and it's not just a benchmark of California's environmental history but also a profound and emotional valedictory effort. Living as I do within ¼ mile of the grumbling and growling Hayward Fault, I found Reisner's projections of the cataclysmic effects of the Big One to be more than unsettling. Those of us who are priviledged or doomed to live in this glorious state cannot fail to take heed of the picture he paints of the likely events surrounding our upcoming tectonic hiccups, belches, and sneezes.
The book is divided into 3 sections. The first retells Californias environmental history from the era of Junipero Serra's mission system right up to our own freeway system. The middle section deals with the fundamentals of plate tectonics. But it's that 3rd section that looks forward to (shudder) a hypothetical eruption of the Hayward Fault in 2005 that is most gripping. Yikes.
Sayonara to a great environmentalist and author.
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Format: Hardcover
A 7.2m earthquake ruptures on the Hayward Fault one February day in California and the chaos begins. Unreinforced buildings topple to the ground, freeway overpasses buckle, and the cantilever structure of the Bay Bridge falls into the bay below. Several thousand people are killed by the event. More troubles ensue as the fault destroys canals, power lines, sewer lines, railroad tracks, and highways (all built across the fault) that could bring help and aid to the dazed survivors. Even the airports are knocked out of commission as their runways, built on bay mud) are turned to jello by the ground motion. Loma Prieta was a whimper compared to what the Hayward fault has unleashed.
This is a fictional scenario of course, yet it leans heavily on what could be. The events are based on long conversations the author had with experts in the earthquake field. Anyone who has read Cadillac Desert knows the power of Marc Reisner's ability to analyze and explore a topic.
The only "con" for me was the book was too short! It was so gripping I couldn't put it down but I still wanted more. A book double or triple the size would've been fine.
Please also note, that the book is being published 3 years after Mr. Reisner's death. As such, it does not seem the book was in it's absolute final form prior to being released. There are only three chapters and they don't seem quite balanced. He also launches into his scenario (the last half of the book) rather abruptly, requiring the reader to be alert. I didn't mark it down in terms of a rating as I was expecting this (and the quality of the material is high enough to overlook this oddity) but I mention it here to warn the reader.
Still, while it lacks in polish is more than compensated for in it's urgency.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is required reading for all, not only Californians. We are talking here about the BIG ONE, the inevitable next large earthquake to hit the San Andreas fault system. It is not a question of if it will happen, but when -- next year, in 2010, or perhaps not until the year 2110? When it happens, it will undoubtedly be the largest national disaster on record, killing thousands, and destroying buildings and infrastructure with a cost of...well, some dollar figure best written with scientific notation.
The book is organized into three parts: Part 1 summarizes the colonization history of southern California, L.A., and San Fransciso, explaining how the cities came to be and how half of the western population somewhat suprisingly now resides therein; Part 2 briefly discusses the basics of plate tectonics, earthquakes, and the numerous geographic and geologic hazards unique to California; and Part 3 is a fictional diary of the author's day set in the near future (February 28, 2005), the day a large quake occurs on the Hayward Fault on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. Parts 1 and 2 are both informative and well written, but it is Part 3 that is particularly disturbing; the entire scenario is drawn from experiences of past earthquakes and the author's local knowledge, and the description is quite plausible. The consequences of such an earthquake are difficult to envision, but I believe that you will find Mr. Reisner's fictional treatment really hits the mark.
I read one of his previous books, "Cadillac Desert" and found it politically one-sided and tough to finish. This book is different.
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Format: Hardcover
As a geoscience educator, I'm often looking for new books that will engage freshman, introductory geology students, and I can think of no better way to compliment this book than to say that I'm going to require it for all my lower division classes.
Reisner doesn't reiterate ideas from Cadillac Desert, but rather infuses his understanding of the interaction of water, geology, and people into this new area. I learned a lot; for example, I didn't have a full appreciation of the precarious nature of the Delta and its role in supplying the southern half of the state with water.
The book was written pre-9/11, and one cannot help nodding bitterly at the accuracy of Reisner's descriptions of public reaction to, say, the deaths of thousands of citizens.
It's a terrible loss for us that Reisner won't write another book, and indeed didn't flesh this one out as thoroughly as his presentation in Cadillac Desert. As an example, the scope and inadequacies of legal changes to building permitting after the 1971 San Fernando earthquake could use further elaboration. Such omissions don't distract from the book--indeed, they may enhance its readibility--but I'm sure had he time, Reisner would have delved in more detail into many subjects. Nonetheless, this book should be a startling and resource-rich guide for the cataclysmic event that is guaranteed to happen in the near future.
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