A Dangerous Place: California’s Unsettling Fate

Marc Reisner

The late Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, tells Californians the truth about our strange choice to settle on seismically unstable ground. As he details it, San Francisco’s port made it an inevitable site for a major city, but Los Angeles was created out of nothing by land speculators—in both cases, these were the worst spots in the state for cities. Once a major city is established, it’s almost always rebuilt rather than moved, no matter how bad the damage or how grave the danger. The final third of the book is taken up with a graphic description of the effects of a 7.2 earthquake—far from a worst-case scenario—on the Bay Area. It’s an eye-opener that makes Sacramento look like a pretty good place to be—even though we’re not exactly shake-proof, either.