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A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate Paperback – July 27, 2004
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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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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. It is short (181 pages, I finished it in two sittings), very well-written, and carefully researched (as a professional geologist, even I was unaware of the consequences a large quake in San Francisco would potentially have to the water supply of Los Angeles).
Sadly, the young Marc Reisner passed away in 2000, so this will likely be his last book. That is truly unfortunate! I highly recommend this book to anyone with a even a passing interest in U.S. history, science, and/or politics, and especially to those of you who live on the left coast.
One thing for sure, as noted by the well-known philosopher Will Durant: "Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice."