Review: California Fault

Thurston Clarke (1995)

From Eureka to the Salton Sea, Thurston Clarke follows the San Andreas fault, writing about the communities and the people he encounters along the way. His quest is three-fold: To understand what rationale goes into living directly on a fault that’s long overdue for the “the big one,” to walk in the footsteps of his own relative (a California Gold Rush pioneer abandoned by the rest of his party) and to experience a Golden State quake first-hand.

Part travelogue, part quirky character study, part urban study, it’s all entertaining and informative, even for this California native, earthquake-fleeing reader. Clarke uses history, humor and a fair amount of head shaking to illuminate how, in the mid ’90s when the book was written, urban planners and local leaders covered the state with gated communities masking as a return to the wholesome ideal of the Midwestern small town. Fighting the good fight are a group of “eccentric community builders” who make up the heart and soul of the state, holding fast to their brand of the American Dream while perched on rift in the Earth that makes it simultaneously one of the most desirable and most dangerous places in the country to live. [****]

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