The Great Quake Debate
The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology
- PUBLISHED: May 2022
- SUBJECT LISTING: Nature and Environment, Science and Technology Studies, History / American History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 328 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 18 b&w illus., 3 maps
- ISBN: 9780295750729
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In the first half of the twentieth century, when seismology was still in in its infancy, renowned geologist Bailey Willis faced off with fellow high-profile scientist Robert T. Hill in a debate with life-or-death consequences for the millions of people migrating west. Their conflict centered on a consequential question: Is southern California earthquake country?
These entwined biographies of Hill and Willis offer a lively, accessible account of the ways that politics and financial interests influenced the development of earthquake science. During this period of debate, severe quakes in Santa Barbara (1925) and Long Beach (1933) caused scores of deaths and a significant amount of damage, offering turning points for scientific knowledge and mainstreaming the idea of earthquake safety.
The Great Quake Debate sheds light on enduring questions surrounding the environmental hazards of our dynamic planet. What challenges face scientists bearing bad news in the public arena? How do we balance risk and the need to sustain communities and cities? And how well has California come to grips with its many faults?
Authors & Contributors
Susan Hough is a research seismologist in Pasadena, California. Her popular-science books include Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction and Richter's Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man. She is a past president of the Seismological Society of America and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
Hough presents a well-researched narrative...Interesting read, tracing the history of this seismic and scientific debate.- Choice
Seismologist Susan Hough's account offers a revealing glimpse of the personalities and issues within America's geologic community in the early twentieth century. But it also can be read as a cautionary tale about science and society.- Natural History Magazine
Hough's book...touches the history of a subfield of earth science that has been only rarely studied before: seismology.- H-Net
This book is historical and biographical writing at its very best.- Environment and History
The Great Quake Debate gives all readers—historians, scientists, and interested non-experts—excellent insights into the unfolding of scientific community and scientific investigations of earthquakes in the United States, a topic crucial to public and private life then, and still.- Pacific Historical Review
A delightful, timely glimpse into a little-known but fascinating debate among earthquake scientists regarding the seismic threat to southern California.- Alexandra Witze, coauthor of Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World
A window into a formative time in earthquake seismology, extraordinarily well-researched and full of personal details.- Marcia Bjornerud, author of Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World
An important reminder to live with an open mind and prepare for the hazards that ravage this planet we live on, for our lives may depend on it...Willis's and Hill's stories in the book provide a detailed and valuable account of the work and life of geologists in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States.- Janine Krippner, Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution
Hough is the ideal author for this story, being a seismologist herself, steeped in the history of her trade, and a masterful raconteur. Whether it's how to reopen the economy after a pandemic, or what to do about climate change, the great quake debate was a precursor for modern tussles between science and policy.- Callan Bentley, geologist, Northern Virginia Community College