Cover image for Disaster! : the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906
Disaster! : the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906
Kurzman, Dan.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, ME : G.K. Hall, 2002.

Physical Description:
480 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
F869.S357 K87 2001B Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print - Closed Stacks

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"This is an outstanding book with a timely argument. McGinnis makes the important point that information is accelerating and democratic governance needs to evolve in response to rapid changes in information technology and other scientific fields. The breadth of his analysis and the keen insights he provides at many levels of the problem are impressive."-- Darrell M. West, author of Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance

"McGinnis discusses the challenges and opportunities for governance created by the rapid advance of technology, and analyzes these issues in a manner that is new and distinct. Accelerating Democracy tackles an important subject that has not been properly addressed in the literature to date."-- Glenn H. Reynolds, University of Tennessee

Author Notes

Dan Kurzman, a former Washington Post correspondent, is the author of fourteen books and the winner of five literary and journalistic awards

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was one of the most devastating ones ever documented. The damage from the quake alone would have crippled the city, yet far more destructive were the fires that sprung up afterward. As the military arrived to help maintain order amid the chaos, a power struggle arose between the mayor and the general who had declared a state of martial law. Many of the soldiers turned to indiscriminately looting and shooting the civilians they were brought in to protect. Kurzman takes us on a tour of San Francisco during the three days in which the fires nearly wiped out the city. Telegrams to Washington, D.C., which predict the total destruction of the entire city, and the reports of survivors serve as chilling testimony to the horrors of the quake's aftermath. Through their eyes we see the devastation as it unfolds, feel their fear as they search for loved ones, and mourn their losses. A profound and affecting documentary of San Francisco's darkest hours. --Gavin Quinn

Publisher's Weekly Review

On the morning of April 18, 1906, a monster earthquake struck San Francisco, leveling virtually the entire city and sparking a fire that would burn for three days. In this harrowing, exhaustively researched account, Kurzman calls the catastrophe "probably America's worst peacetime disaster," with 10,000 dead. The author focuses on the human drama, following more than 100 different characters over several days, to illustrate the extremes of courage and cowardice that tragedy can evoke. Some tried to ignore it, like actor John Barrymore, who put on his white tails and strolled to a Union Square club for a brandy. Others were utterly absorbed by it, like the San Francisco Call reporter who dashed around the crumbling city in a frenzy, agog at the opportunity to "record the end of the world." And yet others went berserk, like the drunk prostitutes and pimps who staged an orgy on the steps of the U.S. Mint, apparently deciding to meet the world's end "in the style to which they were accustomed." Heroism also manifested itself in many forms, such as the exhausted firefighters who fought literally at the water's edge to keep the blaze from consuming the last pier connecting San Francisco to the rest of the world. Kurzman, a veteran chronicler of catastrophe (Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis; etc.) and winner of the George Polk Memorial Award and the National Jewish Book Award, has put his experience to good use here. A Titanic-like tragedy, absorbing characters and an astute and sympathetic storytellerthis book has it all. 16-page b&w photo insert; 1 map. (May) Forecast: Fatal Voyage sold a total (in cloth and paper) of 150,000. This new book, appearing exactly 95 years after the pivotal event, should be a natural in the Bay Area and among disaster enthusiasts, particularly those readers who enjoy the thrill of reliving danger from the safety of their favorite reading chair. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, destroyed most of the city. The fires afterward, however, leveled what remained and rendered the entire population homeless; perhaps ten thousand died all told. While the great opera singer Enrico Caruso rushed to save his clothes and valuables, the poor ran for their lives; and as firemen valiantly fought the firestorm in a futile effort to save the city, Mayor Eugene Schmitz organized an ad hoc committee to control panic, aid victims, and supervise relief efforts. The disaster made heroes out of beggars and beggars of rich men. Corruption reached new lows, and human generosity blossomed under adversity. Kurzman (former Washington Post correspondent and author of 14 books) portrays a city in panic as it faced the worst disaster in its history. Working from diaries and papers that survived the fires, Kurzman brings history alive as he weaves together individual stories. The concluding chapters summarize the new society that sprang from the ashes, based on a person's ability to work rather than the accident of birth. In addition, Kurzman reviews contemporary San Francisco's ability to combat disaster. This riveting history belongs in public and academic libraries. Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
People in the Bookp. xvii
Map of San Francisco, 1906p. xxi
Prefacep. xxiii
Prologuep. 1
1 Caruso and the Odor of Rosesp. 7
2 Barrymore Slept Herep. 12
3 Sullivan's Nightmarep. 14
4 The Nectar of Corruptionp. 21
5 The Banker and the Boyp. 29
6 Cook's Tour of a Cataclysmp. 32
7 The End of the Worldp. 37
8 Birth and Deathp. 44
9 The Miser and the Melting Potp. 49
10 The Accordion and the Copsp. 51
11 The Dishware and the Dragonsp. 56
12 The Crackle of Terrorp. 63
13 The Cruel Trapp. 69
14 Napoleon to the Rescuep. 72
15 Inoculating the Mayorp. 81
16 The Lord, the King, and the Executionersp. 89
17 Succumbing to Catastrophep. 94
18 The Puny Millionairesp. 99
19 Not Even the Dead Were Safep. 104
20 The Vengeful Demonsp. 108
21 The Tongue of a Poisonous Snakep. 115
22 The Angel and the Newbornp. 120
23 Criminals in Uniformp. 124
24 Bringing Out the Bestp. 136
25 The Case for the Firep. 141
26 A Proud Endingp. 147
27 Ravagement, Racism, and Ratsp. 151
28 The Persian Catp. 160
29 Black News and White Tailsp. 166
30 The Home Bank and the Burned Homep. 171
31 A Vow to Love and a Vow to Diep. 175
32 Misery, Murder, and Masteryp. 180
33 Running a Gauntletp. 186
34 From Prayer to Actionp. 190
35 Dynamite and Desperationp. 193
36 A Fruit Dish and a Cup of Teap. 201
37 The Lure of Rare Winep. 208
38 The Ghoulish Lionp. 212
39 The Deadline and the Doorknobp. 220
40 A Last Standp. 223
41 Rise from the Ruinsp. 228
Epiloguep. 248
Notesp. 257
Bibliographyp. 269
Indexp. 287