The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Alaska earthquake of 1964 was the largest seismic event to ever strike North America. It lasted for nearly five minutes and triggered a series of catastrophic tsunamis. I recall when it happened, and I even spoke to a person who experienced it. That is one reason why I wanted to read this book. The other reason is that I’m writing a book that begins with a big earthquake, and I wanted to do some fact checking. Mr. Fountain’s description of the earth movement and the tsunamis is marvelous. The truth in this case, is hyperbole. Towns vanish, ships and people disappear, the earth opens, and snaps shut repeatedly. Houses fall into great fissures. Those readers who are familiar with earthquakes should try to imagine one that lasts for five minutes and increases in intensity as it progresses.
I am disappointed to have to tell you that the actual description of the disaster is woefully brief. Most of this book is filler. We have the life story of the geologist who investigated the quake after the fact. We even got the life history of his father. We were subjected to the life story of one of the early proponents of the Continental Drift Theory. A few more biographies of some of the victims were thrown in to fill a couple more chapters. There is just too much uninteresting and unnecessary information. I suggest that you skim it or skip it. Go straight for the earthquake. That part is great.
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I did not want to start a new blog, but Blogger quit working. I couldn’t even contact them to complain. I’ve gotten behind in my book reviews, so I’m going to use this initial post to review The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.
The first remarkable thing about The Botany of Desire is that is written by a man named Pollan. How did he resist changing the spelling to Pollen? That aside, there is a great deal of pollen dusting these pages. Mr. Pollan focuses on four plants: the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. Who knew that something as commonplace as an apple had a fascinating history? Apples originated in Kazakhstan. Edible apples cannot be raised from seed, therefore, the apple trees planted by Johnny Appleseed, were grown for making hard cider. Tulips drove normally staid Dutchmen insane. Modern pot cultivation has been refined to a science that relies completely on clones. Genetically modified potatoes are treated like software, and farmers must accept the terms of a licensing agreement to grow them.
The Botany of Desire is an in depth journey into arcane history, and at the same time exploring the often symbiotic relationship between plants and humans. Michael Pollan, in addition to being a journalist, is a dyed in the wool gardener who draws on his own experience to bring this book to life. That experience, coupled with profound research, makes this book an intriguing read.