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.
Both Fountain and Miles are journalists (Fountain has worked at The New York Times for two decades), and their books are chock-full of these kinds of tales, describing the human scale of such disasters ... The Great Quake is rich with such revelations; and I felt grateful, even giddy, as I read them. Fountain’s book is like a gift box: Open the lid to peek at the treasures of the Earth. I could geek out on such details for a month and never miss mentions of humanity ...neither book wallows in sensationalism or alarmism.
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.
The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet, by New York Times science writer Henry Fountain, documents the 1964 Alaska earthquake ... Fountain atmospherically depicts life in the frontier communities, Native Alaskan fishing village Chenega and port town Valdez, that were razed when 'the earth (rang) like a bell' for five minutes... He captures the sheer sensory oddness of an earthquake ...narrative is haunted by images that live long in the mind, not least a crimson tide of dead red snapper flushed from the roiling depths ... But The Great Quake is also detective story... Enter the U.S. Geological Survey's George Plafker ... he supplies elusive empirical validation of the theory of plate tectonics – that the Earth is fissured with grinding plates – described by Fountain as 'the unifying theory for all the geological features and processes that humans have wondered about for centuries.'
Though Fountain never achieves the novelistic drama of Jon Krakauer or Sebastian Junger in their bestselling man-against-nature books, he succeeds in showing why this particular earthquake and its aftermath are worth remembering. A readable book that shows how natural disaster spurred scientific inquiry.