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The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet (Hardcover)

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The July 1964 issue of National Geographic had a photo of the world's tallest tree on the cover. I don't remember that story, but their illustrator, Pierre Mion, imagined Mrs. Lowell Thomas, Jr.'s first person account of being almost swallowed by a crack in the earth in Anchorage during the "Good Friday" earthquake on March 27th. That illustration was so powerful, that I mistakenly assumed for decades that buckling buildings and caved in landscapes, and not drowning, were what killed most earthquake victims. Much of today's knowledge about earthquakes, and important confirmation for the theory of plate tectonics, came from the fieldwork that government geologist George Plafker did in coastal Alaska, just days following the quake. Author Fountain focuses on Plafker and the unlikely path that he took to geology, as well as the personal stories of Alaskan families, many from tiny tribal fishing villages, who were the most affected. The Great Quake is both accessible earth science and a dramatic history.


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New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

In the bestselling tradition of Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm, The Great Quake is a riveting narrative about 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.

At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, a magnitude 9.2. earthquake - the second most powerful in world history - struck the young state of Alaska. The violent shaking, followed by massive tsunamis, devastated the southern half of the state and killed more than 130 people. A day later, George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, arrived to investigate. His fascinating scientific detective work in the months that followed helped confirm the then-controversial theory of plate tectonics.

In a compelling tale about the almost unimaginable brute force of nature, New York Times science journalist Henry Fountain combines history and science to bring the quake and its aftermath to life in vivid detail. With deep, on-the-ground reporting from Alaska, often in the company of George Plafker, Fountain shows how the earthquake left its mark on the land and its people -- and on science.

About the Author

HENRY FOUNTAIN has been a reporter and editor at the New York Times for two decades, writing about science for most of that time. From 1999 to 2009 he wrote "Observatory," a weekly column in the Science Times section. He was an editor on the national news desk and the Sunday Review and was one of the first editors of Circuits, the Times' pioneering technology section. Prior to coming to the Times, Fountain worked at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, New York Newsday, and the Bridgeport Post in Connecticut. He is a graduate of Yale University, where he majored in architecture. He and his family live just outside of New York City. Learn more at

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781101904060
ISBN-10: 1101904062
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
Publication Date: August 8th, 2017
Pages: 288
Language: English