Disaster! The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906

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9780061051746: Disaster! The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906

Just after 5 A.M. on April 18, 1906, an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale ripped through sleeping San Francisco, toppling buildings, exploding gas mains, and trapping thousands of citizens beneath tons of stone, broken wood, and twisted metal. Herds of cattle stampeded madly through the streets. The air reverberated with the panicked screams of the doomed and dying.

And then came the fires: hellish, gas-fueled conflagrations so hot that molten glass ran down gutters. A mother crushed the skull of her trapped son with a rock so he wouldn't burn alive. A couple defiantly went ahead with their wedding even as the flames closed in. Rats from boats that smuggled prostitute slaves into Chinatown began to spread bubonic plague through the city. With water mains destroyed, firemen could only stand and watch for three terrifying days as the fires consumed the remains left by the earthquake. Adding to the terror were soldiers, some drunk, who shot, bayoneted, or hanged in the street at least five hundred suspected looters and other often innocent victims. As many as ten thousand people died in the catastrophe.

Drawing on meticulous researched and eye-witness accounts, Dan Kurzman re-creates one of the most horrific events of the twentieth century. It is a breathtaking, magnificently composed pastiche of personal tragedies. Kurzman captures the fear and madness that raged through a hell unequaled in the peace-time history of this nation. Yet, amid the rubble and death, the author also uncovers extraordinary courage and humanity and honorable acts as noble as any ever celebrated.

More riveting than fiction but, incredibly, true, Disaster! is unforgettable history -- a masterful account of the calamitous demise and astonishing resurrection of an American city...and the triumph of a rough-and-tumble populace that refused to succumb to nature in its most merciless mood.

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About the Author:

Dan Kurzman, a former Washington Post correspondent, is the author of fourteen books and the winner of five literary and journalistic awards: The George Polk Memorial Award; the National Jewish Award; the Newspaper Guild's Front Page Award; and, twice, the Cornelius Ryan Award for the year's best book on foreign affairs. Kurzman is a native of San Francisco and now makes his home in New Jersey.

From Publishers Weekly:

On the morning of April 18, 1906, a monster earthquake struck San Francisco, leveling virtually the entire city and sparking a fire that would burn for three days. In this harrowing, exhaustively researched account, Kurzman calls the catastrophe "probably America's worst peacetime disaster," with 10,000 dead. The author focuses on the human drama, following more than 100 different characters over several days, to illustrate the extremes of courage and cowardice that tragedy can evoke. Some tried to ignore it, like actor John Barrymore, who put on his white tails and strolled to a Union Square club for a brandy. Others were utterly absorbed by it, like the San Francisco Call reporter who dashed around the crumbling city in a frenzy, agog at the opportunity to "record the end of the world." And yet others went berserk, like the drunk prostitutes and pimps who staged an orgy on the steps of the U.S. Mint, apparently deciding to meet the world's end "in the style to which they were accustomed." Heroism also manifested itself in many forms, such as the exhausted firefighters who fought literally at the water's edge to keep the blaze from consuming the last pier connecting San Francisco to the rest of the world. Kurzman, a veteran chronicler of catastrophe (Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis; etc.) and winner of the George Polk Memorial Award and the National Jewish Book Award, has put his experience to good use here. A Titanic-like tragedy, absorbing characters and an astute and sympathetic storytellerthis book has it all. 16-page b&w photo insert; 1 map. (May)Forecast: Fatal Voyage sold a total (in cloth and paper) of 150,000. This new book, appearing exactly 95 years after the pivotal event, should be a natural in the Bay Area and among disaster enthusiasts, particularly those readers who enjoy the thrill of reliving danger from the safety of their favorite reading chair.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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