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Seismic CitySeismic City

An Environmental History of San Francisco's 1906 Earthquake

Joanna L. Dyl


Book published by University of Washington Press


On April 18, 1906, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook the San Francisco region, igniting fires that burned half the city. The disaster in all its elements - earthquake, fires, and recovery - profoundly disrupted the urban order and challenged San Francisco's perceived permanence.

The crisis temporarily broke down spatial divisions of class and race and highlighted the contested terrain of urban nature in an era of widespread class conflict, simmering ethnic tensions, and controversial reform efforts. From a proposal to expel Chinatown from the city center to a vision of San Francisco paved with concrete in the name of sanitation, the process of reconstruction involved reenvisioning the places of both people and nature. In their zeal to restore their city, San Franciscans downplayed the role of the earthquake and persisted in choosing patterns of development that exacerbated risk.

In this close study of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Joanna L. Dyl examines the decades leading up to the catastrophic event and the city's recovery from it. Combining urban environmental history and disaster studies, Seismic City demonstrates how the crisis and subsequent rebuilding reflect the dynamic interplay of natural and human influences that have shaped San Francisco.

Joanna L. Dyl is visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands.

REVIEWS:

“An original work about the 1906 disaster and its causes, context, and consequences.”

—Matthew Morse Booker, author of Down by the Bay: San Francisco's History between the Tides

“This thoroughly readable and solidly documented book goes well beyond the mayhem of the quake and fires to include complex stories of labor struggles, sanitation reforms, and race and environmental justice during the long recovery process.”

—Craig E. Colten, author of An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature

“Dyl's Seismic City is the best history of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 you'll ever read. Dyl demonstrates how wrongheaded it is to label this tragedy a 'natural disaster,' revealing the social and cultural underpinnings of one of the worst calamities in the history of the United States.”

—Ari Kelman, University of California, Davis

Seismic City is among the best accounts I've read of the endlessly fascinating San Francisco earthquake, fire, and aftermath. What's more, Dyl's got style - it's fun to learn how, 111 years later, this event continues to offer lessons for the world we live in today.”

—Sean Wilsey, author of Oh the Glory of It All





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