A Crack in the Edge of the World

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am

A Crack in the Edge of the World

by Simon Winchester

HarperTorch, $76

Charles Richter, who came up with the earthquake scale in 1935, was 'an avid nudist' with a 'prodigious sexual appetite'. Readers familiar with Simon Winchester will take such asides in their stride as our correspondent/geologist digs about in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a century ago on April 18. He reprises his Krakatoa (2003) in further discursions about rocks and tectonics, and expounds on the 1,200km San Andreas Fault and what exactly the Earth did in the seconds surrounding 5.12am that day. But he also scampers around a lot above ground, and we get a vivid story of a city's devastation - US$8.2 billion worth in today's money - and survivor stories, among them the tenor Enrico Caruso and actor John Barrymore. The destruction of Chinatown is well done. Bryan Burrough, reviewing A Crack in the Edge of the World for The New York Times, says: 'I hated it ... This is history as it might be written by Austin Powers.' The Washington Post didn't much like it, either, but David Phelan in The Independent found it 'engagingly, captivatingly readable'.