Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science

Article excerpt

The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science. By Jake Page and Charles Officer. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Pp. Xu, 239. Illus., notes, index. Cloth, $24.00).

A recent news release details how seismologists are predicting a monstrously huge, devastating earthquake for Tokyo in the next fifty years and that it will be "The Big One." Californians have lived with the concept of "The Big One" along the San Andréas Fault for many years, knowing with a certainty that it is not a matter of if, but when. In the jargon dealing with earthquakes, the term, "The Big One," has become almost omnipresent. Jake Page and Charles Officer, the authors of the recently released book, The Big One, maintain that the real "Big One" was-and surely will be someday in the future-the New Madrid Earthquake.

During the winter of 1811 and 1812, three major earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks and tremors struck mid-America along the lower Mississippi River. The earthquake activity was centered around the frontier settlement of New Madrid in southeast Missouri's boot-heel and the quakes have come to be collectively called, The New Madrid Earthquake. The Big One repeatedly compares the total estimated energy released by the cataclysmic event with estimates of other past quakes.

A major problem with the book is that it attempts to discern the intended audience. In places it appears that the book is a simplified explanation of earthquakes for the lay reader. Elsewhere, long and tedious explanations take a determined effort on the part of the reader through which to wade. It almost seems, at times, that the text is a thesis on earthquake formation and propagation. Yet, the average junior high Earth Science textbook does a far better job. There is a disconcerting use of fancy words: lacustrine (like a lake), logorrheic (excessive wordiness), inamorata (something to do with love), and alarums (disorganized activity), among others. They are simply out of place in a book of this nature.

The reader is introduced to some interesting individuals who helped the progress of seismology. There is, for example, the "talented if eccentric" Jared Brooks, a resident of Louisville, Kentucky, who experienced the New Madrid quakes and set up a unique system of pendulums and springs to monitor them. …

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