On the Fault Line: Suggested Reading for Californian Earthquakes

As the leading university press on the West Coast, we constantly think about when the next “big one” will strike. The article San Francisco’s Big Seismic Gamble by Thomas Fuller, Anjali Singhvi, and Josh Williams from today’s New York Times reminded us of the fragility of our landscape as well as the magnificence that lies beneath it. Following are a selection of titles from our backlist to help us to more deeply understand the seismic realities of living in the Golden State.

After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006:
Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
Mark Klett (Photographer), Michael Lundgren (Contributor)

How exactly has San Francisco’s urban landscape changed in the hundred years since the earthquake and cataclysmic firestorms that destroyed three-quarters of the city in 1906? For this provocative rephotography project, bringing past and present into dynamic juxtaposition, renowned photographer Mark Klett has gone to the same locations pictured in forty-five compelling historic photographs taken in the days following the 1906 earthquake and fires and precisely duplicated each photograph’s vantage point. The result is an elegant and powerful comparison that challenges our preconceptions about time, history, and culture.


The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906:
How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself, With a New Preface
Philip L. Fradkin

The first indication of the prolonged terror that followed the 1906 earthquake occurred when a ship steaming off San Francisco’s Golden Gate “seemed to jump clear out of the water.” This gripping account of the earthquake, the devastating firestorms that followed, and the city’s subsequent reconstruction vividly shows how, after the shaking stopped, humans, not the forces of nature, nearly destroyed San Francisco in a remarkable display of simple ineptitude and power politics. Bolstered by previously unpublished eyewitness accounts and photographs, this definitive history of a fascinating city caught in the grip of the country’s greatest urban disaster will forever change conventional understanding of an event one historian called “the very epitome of bigness.”


Surf, Sand, and Stone:
How Waves, Earthquakes, and Other Forces Shape the Southern California Coast
Keith Heyer Meldahl

Surf, Sand, and Stone tells the scientific story of the Southern California coast: its mountains, islands, beaches, bluffs, surfing waves, earthquakes, and related phenomena. It takes readers from San Diego to Santa Barbara, revealing the evidence for how the coast’s features came to be and how they are continually changing. With a compelling narrative and clear illustrations, Surf, Sand, and Stone outlines how the coast will be altered in the future and how we can best prepare for it.


Magnitude 8:
Earthquakes and Life along the San Andreas Fault
Philip L. Fradkin

Environmental historian Philip L. Fradkin offers a vivid history of earthquakes and an eloquent guide to the San Andreas Fault, the seismic scar that bisects the Golden State’s spectacular scenery. The author includes dramatic stories of legendary earthquakes elsewhere: in New York, New England, the central Mississippi River Valley, Europe, and the Far East. Combining human and natural dramas, he places the reader at the epicenter of the most invisible, unpredictable, and feared of the earth’s violent phenomena. On the eve of the millennium, as cyberspace crackles with apocalyptic visions, Fradkin reaches beyond the earthshaking moment to examine the mythology, culture, social implications, politics, and science of earthquakes.

A Land in Motion:
California’s San Andreas Fault
Michael Collier

As he tours the length of the San Andreas Fault, Michael Collier provides a valuable overview of plate tectonics and gives a geologic history of the San Andreas Fault written for non-scientists. He discusses the evolution of seismology as a science and traces the knowledge that scientists have gleaned about earthquakes and plate tectonics from their work on the San Andreas Fault. Collier looks into human history as well, discussing major earthquakes that have hit the San Andreas, including the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the San Fernando quake of 1971, the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, the Landers quake of 1992, and many lesser temblors.


Why Geology Matters:
Decoding the Past, Anticipating the Future
Doug Macdougall

Volcanic dust, climate change, tsunamis, earthquakes—geoscience explores phenomena that profoundly affect our lives. But more than that, as Doug Macdougall makes clear, the science also provides important clues to the future of the planet. In an entertaining and accessibly written narrative, Macdougall gives an overview of Earth’s astonishing history based on information extracted from rocks, ice cores, and other natural archives. He explores such questions as: What is the risk of an asteroid striking Earth? Why does the temperature of the ocean millions of years ago matter today? How are efforts to predict earthquakes progressing? Macdougall also explains the legacy of greenhouse gases from Earth’s past and shows how that legacy shapes our understanding of today’s human-caused climate change. We find that geoscience in fact illuminates many of today’s most pressing issues—the availability of energy, access to fresh water, sustainable agriculture, maintaining biodiversity—and we discover how, by applying new technologies and ideas, we can use it to prepare for the future.

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