In A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, Simon Winchester covers the same historic territory, but devotes considerable attention to the science of shifting tectonic plates which bring about earthquakes. Winchester puts the entire episode into the context of science's relatively new Gaia theory, which proposes that the entire planet is a living entity.
Winchester parts company with Smith on a number of key controversies. Unlike Smith, who believes much of the fire's destruction was avoidable, Winchester writes of an apocalyptic blaze that defied any human attempts to thwart it: "No fire department anywhere in America, or probably anywhere in the world, could have possibly dealt properly with this conflagration, had they all the water that they could use. The 1906 fire was essentially uncontrollable . . . " he writes. Winchester thinks dynamite was well managed to create fire breaks thatdid slow the spread of fire. Winchester draws heavily on first-person narratives of the time, noting that many who lived through the earthquake and subsequent fire had the presence of mind to write down their observations. Alexander George McAdie is noteworthy in this regard. Awakened from his slumber by the giant quake, the first thing he did was to note the time on his fob-watch. From there, he proceeded to time the quake's duration all of 40 seconds.