DISASTER!: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906

Dan Kurzman, Author . Morrow $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-105174-6

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 storyteller—this 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.

Reviewed on: 04/23/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-06-008432-5
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