Writing with a signature command of his subject and with compelling resonance, Marc Reisner leads us through California's improbable rise from a largely desert land to the most populated state in the nation, fueled by an economic engine more productive than all of Africa. Reisner believes that the success of this last great desert civilization hinges on California's denial of its own inescapable fate: Both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas sit astride two of the most violently seismic zones on the planet. The earthquakes that have already rocked California were, according to Reisner, a mere prologue to a future cataclysm that will result in immense destruction. Concluding with a hypothetical but chillingly realistic description of what such a disaster would look like, A Dangerous Place mixes science, history, and cultural commentary in a haunting work of profound importance.
The California dream of A Dangerous Place is a kind of mass psychosis, when it hasn't been a trompe l'oeil born of greed and power. The West Coast's brief but hysterical 19th-century gold rush seized the American imagination. Greed and power took over in the face of an overwhelming fact: that for all its appearance and promise of Paradise, California is a distinctly inhospitable place to live. This is particularly true of Los Angeles, which, Reisner argues, is civilization's ultimate absurdity in urban form. — Steve Erickson