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Earth Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith by David L. Ulin (Viking Books) From the first earthquake David L. Ulin experienced in San Francisco at age eighteen, he was fascinated with the daily lives of Californians, who seem to be going about their business with just an occasional rumbling interruption. But these tectonic shifts could easily wreak cataclysmic havoc, just as they did in the great earthquake of 1906.

In The Myth of Solid Ground, Ulin explores how an unlikely collection of scientists, psychics, and apocalyptics have made startlingly accurate earthquake predictions based on everything from magnetic fields to the behavior of whales. In the end, Ulin uses the world of earthquake prediction to explore the deep fault lines of belief and the human longing to hold control, no matter how misguided, over a mysterious and deadly phenomenon that is as much a part of California as speed, youth, and celebrity.

From Publishers Weekl: Ulin's quest for the truth about earthquakes is partly a personal journey in which he seeks to overcome post-traumatic stress and partly an introduction to the field of seismology, the study of earthquakes and seismic waves. It's also an exploration of the Californian spirit and landscape, on which subjects Ulin eagerly philosophizes. Writing in an intense, nervy style, Ulin describes being haunted by his experience of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. Understandably fascinated by seismology and its dreams of predicting quakes, Ulin embarks on interviews with leading researchers—and speculators—in the field. Yet he quickly discovers this science to be, like its subject, all about unstable theoretical terrain: "the whole field operates out of some constantly shifting middle ground between research and folklore, legend and fact." Ulin entertainingly describes each scientist and "sensitive" (a layperson who believes he or she can predict earthquakes) he meets, focusing on the enigma of earthquakes and the ways in which they test faith and reason. Ulin's brilliant prose recalls Charlie Kaufman dialogue, as he takes his audience on a wild drive across a beautiful yet doomed state, his mind buzzing with apprehension, with geological facts and with meditations on the themes of time, certainty and faith.
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