Why I Read It: Amazon Vine pick, plus my natural curiosity about geology dragged me in.
Summary: The 1964 Alaska earthquake and what we learned from it.
My Thoughts: When I was a kid in the 1970s, attending college in the late '80's and early '90's, there was no doubt that plate tectonics explained the make-up of the earth's crust and the cause of earthquakes. It was in the textbooks. It was fact. Yet, it was only seven years prior to my birth that the theory started to come together, as a result of the 1964 Alaskan quake. I guess I had believed that like other theories, it had roots much deeper in the past, even if just the late 1800s. In a way, I guess it had, when we consider the role that the theory of seafloor spreading had on the development of the theory of plate tectonics.
The author focuses on several different groups of people in the books, including the residents of the towns of Chenega and Valdez, and the geologists called in to research changes in the landscape following the quake. He tells the story of the quake with a fast-paced series of short, destruction-filled sentences that attempt to describe the eternity the quake felt like during its five horrendous minutes. I don't think anything ever written will be able to do so, but the author gives it a valiant, convincing effort. He fills us in on the backstory beforehand, introducing us to the characters the quake kills off wantonly and indiscriminately. He tracks the survivors from his 1964 narrative up to the present day. And he tracks the damage and the effects of the quake all over the Pacific Rim.
The star of the story is George Plafker, a geologist who, already familiar with the region after years of field work, joined the team researching the quake's aftermath. His work - driven by the rising and falling of the land, sometimes measurable by, of all things, barnacles, led to the theory of plate tectonics, which, incidentally, is still being tweaked even today.
The story reminds us, too, of the relative unpredictability of earthquakes. But it brings a question to mind. Since we now have ground-penetrating radar, are we far from technology that will allow us to identify those places along fault lines where stresses are building? And from that point, can we develop technologies that will allow us to alleviate those stresses before they release themselves? Or is this like trying to drop atomic bombs into the center of hurricanes, a nice idea but relatively ineffective, even if they represent the ultimate efforts capable by man against nature?