Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake

Get ready. After reading Quakeland, the account of science journalist Kathryn Miles's trek across the United States in search of earthquakes, you'll realize there are fault lines in more places than San Francisco and Seattle.

Miles found that tectonic plates moving far below the earth's surface do not cause all quakes. Humans are responsible for much of the shaking by redistributing stress in rock, inducing tremors from oil and natural gas extraction, mining, building dams and reservoirs, wastewater injection, nuclear testing and even the construction of some high-rise buildings. In the first 40 years after completion of Hoover Dam, the waters of Lake Mead set off more than 10,000 quakes. This happens with dams worldwide; ironically, the dams themselves perform well in earthquakes.

Faults, and their proliferation, keep surprising us--there is no known method for predicting earthquakes, nor is there likely to be one. Miles presents apocalyptic scenarios, but says, "We can create resiliency plans and policies that end in a very different scenario: one with far fewer lives lost." We should be in "permanent emergency" mode. Not just communities--everyone needs a plan: water and food for a week, a first-aid kit, a meeting place.

Miles covers the history of seismology and plate tectonics, and the passion, ingenuity and patience of seismologists and their cohorts. She considers past and recent quakes resulting from hundreds or thousands of years of accumulated energy, and quakes from recent fracking. Quakeland is everything a popular science book should be: well-researched, anecdotal, sometimes humorous, and easily understood. --Marilyn Dahl

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