A Rumble Tonight

November 21st, 2005

For a guy who thinks a lot about earthquakes, Simon Winchester -- my guest on tonight's show (at 7:30 p.m.; repeated on Friday at 10:30 p.m.) -- seemed remarkably relaxed during our conversation. I, on the other hand, was feeling pretty darned shaky -- having just finished reading his latest book, A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. Ever since I experienced the Fairly-Big-One of '89, I'd wondered what it was like in '06. Well, now I know: it was bad -- really, really bad. What the Great Quake didn't destroy, the Great Fire that followed did its best to erase. But I learned something very heartening as well: in the immediate aftermath of the '06 quake, people -- acting together through their government -- carried out amazing acts of kindness and support. So that the book ends up being not just a masterful account of the awesome geological forces that can make our individual lives seem insignificant; it's also a chronicle of how our shared endeavors can bring out the most laudable aspects of our humanity.

Josh interviews Simon WinchesterIn person, Winchester radiates warmth. He's a raconteur's raconteur -- a guy you'd want to want to be chatting with at an isolated tavern that had been snowed-in for the day. He delights in finding seemingly loose threads and tying them together in unexpected ways. Plus he's got a soothing voice and a great British accent. If only he hadn't kept bringing up all that stuff about earthquakes, I might even have gotten a bit loosey-goosey myself. ...

Also on this episode: a "Wandering Josh" segment in which I help a man accomplish his long-held dream of honoring Daly City as the true epicenter of the '06 quake -- even if Daly City doesn't want him to!

Entry Filed under: tv episodes


  • 1. Michael Kenney  |  November 21st, 2005 at 8:53 pm

    Thanks for having Simon Winchester on your show. As a geology student, I enjoyed his book: The Map That Changed The World. I would recommend that you consider bringing on author John McPhee, as well. His books about the regional geology and geologists of the United States are absolutely captivating! The last in his series, called Assembling California (1992), ties in well with Winchester’s book about the 1906 quake.

  • 2. Josh Kornbluth  |  November 22nd, 2005 at 11:37 am

    McPhee is a great guest idea — I’ve been a fan of his writing for many years. Thanks for the suggestion, Michael!

  • 3. KH  |  November 22nd, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    Having been a long time resident of Daly City and Colma (but not all the way back to 1906), I was highly amused that the city everyone flocked to after the 1906 earthquake hit was actually the Source of the Jolt! And the fact that the current mayor of Daly City doesn’t want that known or memorialized because it will affect the housing prices must think that the houses near Skyline Drive that are sliding into the ocean are just opening up more ocean-view property for the next row of houses. That could certainly boost those prices up! You probably discussed this with the “brass plaque memorial” guy, but it didn’t get edited into the piece. What a gas!

    My family lived on Railroad Avenue in Daly City and we had to move in order for the 280 Freeway to come through. My house is marked by one of the yellow “merge” signs on Northbound 280. We were the last family on the block to move. Houses were being knocked down all around us. The 280 Freeway was built to be earthquake ready to get people out of town should there be another big one. Supposedly it rocks and rolls with the fault.

    After Railroad Avenue, we moved into a little tract home in Colma, the town which is also known as the “City of the Dead” because there are about 22 cemetaries including a “Pets Rest” cemetary. After the 1906 earthquake, the land values jumped in SF and people wanted to build on the land where the old cemetaries in SF were. So what did those forward thinking citizens do? They dug up every one of the “underground citizens” and MOVED them to Colma! Some made it and some were lost. You should hear about the Odd Fellows Cemetary…. The Town of Colma (formerly known as Lawndale) was incorporated so that this maneuver would never be repeated.

    Colma’s population: Roughly 1500 ABOVE ground and 1.5 million UNDER ground and/or otherwise entombed.

    It’s pretty weird….but in a good way… like Josh!

  • 4. Josh Kornbluth  |  November 23rd, 2005 at 8:51 pm

    … And that’s why Colma gets the bulk of its income from the “Death Tax.” … Great comment, KH — thanks!!

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