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California Fault - Thurston Clarke

California Fault

Author: Thurston Clarke
Book title: California Fault
ISBN: 0517199998
ISBN13: 978-0517199992
Publisher: Random House Value Publishing (April 7, 1998)
Language: English
Category: Americas
Rating: 4.2/5
Votes: 803
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"I became interested in earthquakes when one almost killed me," begins acclaimed travel writer Thurston Clarke, "and in California when I discovered it almost killed my ancestor. . . ." His fascination propelled Clarke to take a journey and begin a brilliant exploration of the physical and social landscape of a mythical state.California has seduced millions with its breathtaking beauty and rich resources. For decades it symbolized the good life: perfect weather, spectacular beaches, agricultural bounty, limitless opportunity, endless optimism, "a new start, a kinder providence, a rebirth of soul and body." Yet the social problems and natural disasters of recent years have tarnished the image of the golden state. To find out what really happened to the California dream, Clarke set off on a remarkable journey down the San Andreas fault, searching for the places and the people who could enlighten him and perhaps answer the provocative question: What is it like living in a place that no matter how beautiful, might suddenly, while you opened the cereal, combed your hair, or bathed the baby, strike you dead?On this incredible excursion, Clarke discovers the tragic fate of the Wiyot Indians and their earthquake legends. . . meets Jerry Hurley, an earthquake "sensitive" whose headaches predict earthquakes with uncanny precision. . . investigates the bitter conflict between California's logging industry and environmentalists. . . uncovers a fascinating conspiracy surrounding the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that rewrote history. . . visits Palm Springs, the glamorous desert hideaway of gated communities, now beset by gangs. . . and stops by the desolate Salton Sea, shaking hands with a determined dreamer who hopes someday to build a blue-collar resort along the abandoned shores.With wit, irony, and a keen eye for observation, Clarke weaves together sociology, history, personality, and seismology. What emerges is a unique portrait of a fascinating, slightly loony, appealingly complex state, with its allure, eccentricity--and optimism--still wonderfully intact.From the Hardcover edition.
Reviews: (7)
Thurston Clarke explores the San Andreas Fault from end to end in this highly entertaining book. Along the way, he examines California and Californians, and consequently is able to offer some fresh insights into life in the Golden State.
The book is presented as a series of vignettes, based on his experiences in various locations along the fault from Humboldt County south to the Salton Sea. Not surprisingly, some sections are more effective than others. His treatment of the legacy of Indian massacres in the Eureka area is hauntingly vivid, as is his analysis of Ferndale's attempts to resist losing its soul to commercialization and yuppification. He also provides what ultimately proves to be a passionate discourse on the never-ending controversy over logging and clearcutting along the north coast.
Another excellent section of the book comes much later, when he explores the hellish new suburban landscape of Palmdale, in the Antelope Valley, His dissection of the emptiness of "the suburban dream" in that sad community is masterful.
Perhaps surprisingly, the weakest aspect of the book is his treatment of geology and earthquakes. He gives WAY too much space and credence to earthquake prediction quackery, including folks who *claim* to predict quakes through headaches, planetary alignment, and the analysis of radio waves. Here, Clarke comes across as gullible and a bit too eager to find "some grain of truth" in pseudo-science.
Also, whereas one cannot expect any book of this scope to be error-free, Clarke commits some small factual blunders here that can grate on the reader who knows better. He misterms an earthquake's "hypocenter" as its "hydrocenter," and actually, the phenomenon he is referring to is its "focus." He misplaces the feisty coastal town of Bolinas in "East Marin," and he cites the Coalinga earthquake as having occurred in 1982, instead of 1983.
In a lengthy book of this kind, I suppose such errors can be overlooked. The freshness of Clarke's insights and his skill as a journalist make this book well worth reading for any student of California history and culture.
Clarke certainly came up with a novel way to get to grips with the fading California Dream. His trip along the San Andreas Fault is filled with characters and places no one would ever visit except Clarke. This makes it all the better as how else would we know there are plans afoot to turn a polluted inland sea, the Salton Sea (where?), in southern California into a resort! Or stories like the weirdly wonderful Japanese businessman who built a "shrine" to James Dean near the spot on the fault where Dean crashed and burned...the list goes on and on. Somehow Clarke is able to weave it all together into a coherent whole and despite his wish to experience a quake on his journey, he doesn't yet leaves us all with a story that will add to the understanding of the elusive California Dream.
California Fault is an absolutely wonderful addition to the literature about California, and the San Andreas Fault. Clarke's tales about the state, and how the Fault has influenced it, are highly recommended.I would rate the book up with Mike Davis' "City of Quartz" and "Ecology of Fear" as some of the absolute best writing about the state.
The fear, fatalism, and futility that earthquakes inspire in Californians may be the one true element that binds them all despite their political, sociocultural and economic and, may I add, hydrological divisiveness. Still, earthquakes may not necessarily factor in the psyche of people who live a comfortable distance from the state's many faults or for people who do not think they should be affected at all. The book probably works out fine for readers who have not been to California or who are curious about earthquakes and the alleged capabilities of some people to make predictions sans scientific instruments.
The strongest message that I got from the book is this: Just as the beauty of California belies the terror that its geologic instability can bring about, the popularity of the state as a favorite destination belies the sad realities that come with unstoppable population growth: the lack of rootedness and an appreciation for history, the ever-increasing isolationism of gated communities and housing developments, and the homogenization of suburban living, shopping, and other recreational diversions. The description of teenage ennui in privileged Saratoga, the suburban anonymity of Cupertino in Santa Clara Valley and Palmdale in Antelope Valley, and the increasing hazards of spending a weekend at the San Gabriel Mountains were particularly telling.
Earthquakes may cause people not to move to, or to move out of, California, but the big challenge for Californians is to balance a viable economy with preserving what is left of this gorgeous state. The author lamented the lack of community in places that have just sprouted from what once was rangeland or farmland. Will the sense of community improve when immigrant communities are more established? The children of immigrants and transplants will have to understand the history of this vast state and listen to the voices of reason (voiced out by its eccentrics? bohemians? environmentalists?) in order to come up with a solution to preserve the attributes that make California great.
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