“Of the thousands upon thousands of earthquakes that happen around the world every year – from imperceptible tremors to powerful shakers like the one that hit Lituya Bay – roughly one in sixteen occurs in Alaska. That makes the state one of the most quake-intensive places on the planet.”
On March 27, 1964, an earthquake rattled Alaska for five minutes. The 9.2 magnitude earthquake killed 139 people and literally changed the landscape of much of the state. However, it also changed the scientific community by finally proving that tectonic plates and not just faults can cause earthquakes.
I lived in Alaska for three years as an adult. The Good Friday earthquake is something you learn about shortly after moving to the state. Then you make sure you have earthquake insurance. I only felt one big earthquake when I was there and it was a scary event for my family even though it lasted mere seconds. I received an advanced copy of this book after attending a Penguin Random House webinar about upcoming releases and commenting that it sounded interesting.
Until I read this book, I did not know that it wasn’t set in the scientific world on how earthquakes happened until the 1970s. The Good Friday earthquake and an earthquake in Chile (magnitude 9.4-9.6 on May 22, 1960) finally proved that there were shifting continental plates and that when they moved, the earth would shake. Before that, it was thought that faults in the earth caused earthquakes. The book is split between explaining the scientific developments and telling the story of the Alaskan earthquake from the perspective of people who lived there and experienced it. The chapters about the day of the earthquake and its after-effects were captivating. It is amazing that the number of people who died is so low. One account is from a schoolteacher who managed to survive because the schoolhouse where she taught and lived was just above where the water reached after the earthquake. It stopped when it reached the schoolhouse basement. The water did more damage and killed more people than the initial earthquake.
If you enjoy history and have any fascination with earthquakes or Alaska, you would enjoy this book. It is well written and gives history and scientific facts without being dry. Be prepared to tell people close to you, “Did you know …” if you do read this book. It is full of interesting details and facts.