Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Horrendous 1964 Alaskan Earthquake

When I was growing up in the early 1960s my grandfather was corresponding with Maurice Ewing and William Donn of the Lamont Geological Observatory. Gramps had been interested in their work since 1958 when he read a Harper's Magazine article by Betty Friedan called The Coming Ice Age about their research.

I didn't know that Project Moho, drilling cores in the deep sea, how to stop the next Ice Age, and Plate Tectonics were not normal dinner table talk subjects. Gramps even got his old college buddy Roger Blough, then president of U. S. Steel, to kick in some funding for their research.

Before 1971 when I took Historical Geology in college I had no idea that Plate Tectonics was a 'new' theory. I'd grown up with it.

I requested The Great Quake:How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain from First to Read because I like geology and enjoy reading about Alaska. I was excited to learn it was about the very research that proved Plate Tectonics.

Fountain introduces us to the people of several small Alaskan villages along the coast, recounting their history and way of life. The families have Russian last names, a legacy when Russia turned the native population into virtual slaves. They live on a subsistence level, their traditional hunting and fishing impacted by factory fishing.

In 1964, on Good Friday, a 9.8 earthquake wrecked havoc and destroyed the villages, claiming the lives of 130 people. It is devastating to read about the tsunamis that wiped the land clean not only of people and houses but trees and the loose rocky layer on the shore.

Geologist George Plafker was very familiar with the area. The day after the quake he flew over the area. His observations led to proving the controversial theory of Plate Tectonics that even Maurice Ewing did not yet subscribe to!

The book reads like popular disaster books such as Dead Wake by Eric Larson, setting up the people and history, recreating the horror of the disaster, and then cogently explaining how Plafker's research impacted the scientific community. Readers can expect to learn Alaskan history and geography, be moved by the horror of the destruction, and brought to understand this planet we live on.

I received a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Great Quake
by Henry Fountain
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Crown Publishing Group (NY)
ISBN13: 9781101904060

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