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100 year anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

“A Crack in the Edge of the World” by Simon Winchester. In this fascinating page-turner, best-selling writer Winchester (“Krakatoa,” “The Professor and the Madman”) has crafted a magnificent testament to the power of planet Earth and the efforts of humankind to understand her. A master storyteller and Oxford trained geologist, Winchester weaves together countless threads of interest, making a powerfully compelling narrative out of what he calls “the most lyrical and romantic of the sciences.” Using the theory of plate tectonics, Winchester describes a planet in flux. Along a 300-mile fault east of the Gold Rush city, San Francisco, the earth, in Winchester’s word, “shrugged.” While the initial shock devastated large parts of the city, it was the firestorm that raged in the days following that nearly wiped San Francisco off the map.

“San Francisco is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires” by Dennis Smith. At 5:12 a.m. on the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco was struck by one of the worst earthquakes in history, instantly killing hundreds. The ensuing fires that ravaged the city for days were responsible for the deaths of as many as 3,000 more. In all, 522 blocks and 28,188 buildings were leveled, and some 200,000 people dislocated. This watershed event in American history has never before been told with the historical detail and insight of that foremost historian of fire, Dennis Smith. The author recounts this tragedy through the stories of the people who lived through those terrible days – from a valiant naval officer who helped save the city’s piers and wharves to Eugene Schmitz, the crooked mayor, to the “debonair scoundrel,” Abe Ruef. Throughout the book, Smith reveals many unknown details about the event, from the city’s great vulnerability to fire – due to its corrupt and hasty building practices – to the widespread racism the quake unleashed and the atrocities committed by national guardsmen.

“After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Re-photographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire” by Mark Klett. In this provocative re-photography project, bringing past and present into dynamic juxtaposition, photographer Mark Klett has gone to the same locations pictured in 45 compelling historic photographs taken in the days following the 1906 earthquake and fires and precisely duplicated each photograph’s vantage point. The result is a powerful comparison of then and now that is a moving commemoration of a tragic centennial. A vivid essay by environmental historian Philip Fradkin on the events surrounding and following the 1906 event describes “the equivalent of an intensive, three-day bombing raid, complete with many tons of dynamite that acted as incendiary devices.”



“Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself” by Philip Fradkin. Philip Fradkin takes us onto the city’s ruptured streets and into its exclusive clubs, teeming hospitals, refugee camps and Chinatown in 1906. Bolstered by previously unpublished eyewitness accounts and photographs, he introduces us to the people – both famous and infamous – who experienced these events. He traces the horrifying results of the mayor’s illegal order to shoot-to-kill anyone suspected of a crime, and he uncovers the ugliness of racism that reveals how an elite oligarchy failed to serve the needs of the ordinary people. This gripping account of the earthquake and the devastating firestorms that followed shows how, after the shaking stopped, humans, not the forces of nature, nearly destroyed San Francisco.

“Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906” by Laurence Yep. Wednesday, April 18,1906, at 5:12 a.m., Henry Travis is awakened by a low rumbling. It sounds like a train coming – windows rattle, doors thump, and there is a crash above him. Across town, Henry’s friend Chin waits for the shaking to stop, but it goes on and on. The tenement his family lives in begins to crack and crumble with broken glass spraying like daggers. The Earth Dragon has awakened … with a vengeance. When the quake subsides, Chin and Henry and their families are lucky to be alive. But now they must escape the fires that have broken out and find their way to safety.




And, new in paperback

“Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West” by Chris Enss. “No Women Need Apply.” Western towns looking for a local doctor during the Frontier era often concluded their advertisements in just that manner. Yet apply they did, and in small towns all over the West, highly trained women from medical colleges in the East took on the post of local doctor to great acclaim. In this new book, author Chris Enss offers a glimpse into the fascinating lives of 10 of these amazing women. These women made immense personal sacrifices to educate themselves in a man’s occupation, often inspired to become healers by the deaths of loved ones to typhoid fever or various illnesses of the time. The first woman dentist of the West set up practice in Nevada City.

“Geographer’s Library” by Jon Fasman. When a reclusive scholar dies under obscure circumstances, reporter Paul Tomm is assigned to write his obituary. But when the coroner in the case is murdered, Tomm finds himself pursuing a story that began 900 years ago with the theft of alchemical instruments from the court geographer in Sicily. As the reporter investigates their present whereabouts, the reader is introduced to these charmed and cursed artifacts and the men and women who coveted them in ages past. Many who liked “The DaVinci Code” and similar titles will enjoy this book.

“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Set in late 1990s’ England, in a parallel universe in which humans are cloned and raised expressly to “donate” their healthy organs and thus eradicate disease from the normal population, this is an epic ethical horror story told in devastatingly poignant detail. By age 31, narrator (and clone) Kathy H has spent nearly 12 years as a “carer” to dozens of “donors.” Knowing that her number is sure to come up soon, she recounts – in excruciating detail – the fraught, minute dramas of her happily sheltered childhood and adolescence at Hailsham, an idyllic, isolated school/orphanage where clone-students are encouraged to make art and feel special. Ishiguro spins a cautionary tale of science outpacing ethics.

“Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art” by Gene Wilder. The man who created some of the funniest moments in film history talks about acting, adultery, neuroses and death in this intimate, unusual memoir. Wilder began acting as a teenager at summer camp and eventually earned some acclaim on Broadway but not much money – he says he was still collecting unemployment checks when he began shooting his breakout film role in Mel Brooks’s original film version of “The Producers” (1968). Off camera, things were more complicated. Honesty is a prevailing quality of this book, as Wilder freely discusses topics ranging from his own neuroses to the drug-fueled misbehavior of his great comedic partner, Richard Pryor. He also doesn’t avoid telling the details of his own bout with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His book candidly explores his own faults and feelings, as well as those of the people he’s loved and lost.

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Compiled by owner Stacey Colin at Harmony Books, 231 Broad St. Nevada City, 265-9564. Hours are Mon. through Saturday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Sunday.


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