A non fiction account of the biggest earthquake in North American recorded history — the 1964 Alaska earthquake that demolished the city of Valdez and swept away the island village of Chenega — and the geologist who hunted for clues to explain how and why it took place.
Avoiding portentousness, Fountain, a veteran New York Times science reporter, paints a deft portrait of life in these remote outposts ... Fountain isn’t a showy writer, but there’s a fever-dream quality to his account of those five minutes that 'made the earth ring like a bell' that captures the hallucinogenic oddness of a world off-kilter, out-of-joint, suddenly uncooperative ... Interleaving snapshots of a lost world, the primal power of nature and high science, The Great Quake is an outstanding work of nonfiction. It’s also a reminder that the original agent of creative destruction resides not in the corporate boardroom, ivory tower or artist’s salon but beneath our feet.
...[an] entertaining and enlightening book ... In contrast to the painstaking process by which science arrives at its certainties, an earthquake takes just a few minutes to reorder reality. Fountain sets the scene for an abrupt wake-up call, and his description of how it unfolds is gripping.
As Henry Fountain recounts in The Great Quake, the most powerful temblor ever recorded in North America (and the second strongest ever measured anywhere) struck southeastern Alaska on March 27, 1964 ... In Alaska, the earthquake left an arc of destruction along the Gulf of Alaska and Prince William Sound, the state’s most developed region. Mr. Fountain, a New York Times science reporter, focuses on two particularly hard-hit communities ... Concentrating on several individuals in Valdez and Chenega, Mr. Fountain humanizes the disaster. Some readers may wish he had trimmed the background on his characters, whose extended biographies are one reason the earthquake doesn’t make an appearance until the book is nearly half-finished ...by spotlighting a principal investigator of the tragedy, geologist George Plafker, Mr. Fountain weaves a compelling scientific detective story.