"I became interested in earthquakes when one almost killed me," begins acclaimed travel writer Thurston Clarke, "and in California when I discovered it almost killed my ancestor. . . ." His fascination propelled Clarke to take a journey and begin a brilliant exploration of the physical and social landscape of a mythical state. California has seduced millions with its breathtaking beauty and rich resources. For decades it symbolized the good life: perfect weather, spectacular beaches, agricultural bounty, limitless opportunity, endless optimism, "a new start, a kinder providence, a rebirth of soul and body." Yet the social problems and natural disasters of recent years have tarnished the image of the golden state. To find out what really happened to the California dream, Clarke set off on a remarkable journey down the San Andreas fault, searching for the places and the people who could enlighten him and perhaps answer the provocative question: What is it like living in a place that no matter how beautiful, might suddenly, while you opened the cereal, combed your hair, or bathed the baby, strike you dead? On this incredible excursion, Clarke discovers the tragic fate of the Wiyot Indians and their earthquake legends. . . meets Jerry Hurley, an earthquake "sensitive" whose headaches predict earthquakes with uncanny precision. . . investigates the bitter conflict between California's logging industry and environmentalists. . . uncovers a fascinating conspiracy surrounding the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that rewrote history. . . visits Palm Springs, the glamorous desert hideaway of gated communities, now beset by gangs. . . and stops by the desolate Salton Sea, shaking hands with a determined dreamer who hopes someday to build a blue-collar resort along the abandoned shores. With wit, irony, and a keen eye for observation, Clarke weaves together sociology, history, personality, and seismology. What emerges is a unique portrait of a fascinating, slightly loony, appealingly complex state, with its allure, eccentricity--and optimism--still wonderfully intact.