A DANGEROUS PLACE: California's Unsettling Fate

Marc Reisner, Author . Pantheon $22 (192p) ISBN 978-0-679-42011-8

Reisner, author of the NBCC Award–nominated Cadillac Desert, offers here a dire but convincing assessment of the future of California. Why have millions settled in dense population centers, engaged in intensive farming and built vast manufacturing complexes on land fundamentally unfit for such development? In Part I, Reisner details the colonization of the state by rapacious missionaries and robber baron developers. After the land grabbing came the political scheming to somehow import water to largely dry southern California—a problem that still hasn't been substantively addressed. In Part II, he explains the more grave, geological instability underlying all this development. Shifting plate tectonics in the region guarantee earthquakes (it's just a question of when and how often). Aware of the human capacity for denial, Reisner unfolds—in classic you-are-there fashion—a not-quite-worst-case scenario of destruction in the Bay Area after a 7.2 Richter scale earthquake hits the Hayward fault in, say, 2005. The Bay Bridge collapses, buildings crumple, roads buckle and landslides carry away entire houses, inundating freeways. Even if buildings aren't atop major geological faults (and many are), if they're perched on landfill or loose soil they may succumb to subsurface liquefaction. Worse yet, artificial water supply systems become unusable, as levees collapse and saline water invades reservoirs. Reisner manages the nearly impossible feat of explaining geopolitical history, hydro-engineering, plate tectonics and comparative seismology in an engaging, delightfully literate fashion. His untimely death in 2000 (at age 51, of colon cancer) was a loss to both belles lettres and natural resources politics. Agent, Joe Spieler. (Feb. 11)

Forecast:This important book will appeal to many, including those outside the Golden State. Environmentalists will naturally go for it, but Reisner's witty, concise prose will attract general readers, too.

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 02/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-14-200383-1
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