SUPERQUAKE!: The Last Days of Los Angeles by David Ritchie

SUPERQUAKE!: The Last Days of Los Angeles

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Despite the cheesy title, this survey of earthquake lore focusing on the coming giant L.A. quake is another solid and entertaining work of popular science by the author of 1981's superb Ring of Fire (volcanoes and quakes) and a subsequent trio of fine books about electronic marvels (Spacewar, The Binary Brain, The Computer Pioneers). Ritchie pulls no punches: ""Some day in the not-too-distant future, much of greater Los Angeles will be destroyed."" To back this doomsdaying, he first offers mini-briefs on 40+ major California quakes of the past 200 years, including fascinating material on the little-known ""Fort Tejon earthquake"" of 1857 (with ""twenty thousand times the energy of the 1945 nuclear explosion"") and a lively summary of the 1906 San Francisco quake (during which Enrico Caruso serenaded frightened victims). An exploration of the evolution of earthquake science and ""quake dangers"" follows (watch out for liquefaction--when finn ground acts like a liquid--and tsunamis, those tidal waves the granddaddy of which was the 1883 Krakatoa whopper that circled the earth thrice). Then comes Ritchie's centerpiece, a shiver-by-shake scenario for the L.A. quake to come (42,000 dead, $250 billion in property damage, and an outbreak of the plague), and, as a cautionary note to non-Californians, a wrap-up of historic quakes and quake hot-spots elsewhere in the US (Boston's at risk; and the biggest US quake ever--here limned in full--was in 1811-1812 New Madrid, Mo., 8.6 on the Richter scale and if repeated today strong enough to sway Chicago and flatten St. Louis). A glance at prediction problems (""modern seismology is still an infant science"") and a useful glossary and bibliography conclude matters. There's little solace here (a few tips on earthquake survival, and reassurance that L.A. won't slide under the sea), but this smooth, fact-packed book engrosses even as it frightens.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Crown