Martin's Must Reads: 'This is Chance!'

Sep 29, 2020

When a crisis or tragedy strikes, some people will cave under the pressure of the situation. Others rise beyond all expectations and show the better side of themselves and humanity.  Such is the situation with Jon Mooallem’s book This is Chance! The Shaking of an All-American City, A Voice that Held It Together; a book about the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska.

The earthquake struck at 5:36 p.m. on Good Friday, March 27, 1964.  It registered 9.2 on the Richter scale and is the second strongest earthquake ever recorded. For a comparison, the great New Madrid earthquake, that caused the Mississippi River to reverse flow in 1811, was only 8.0.

Mooallem’s book follows two threads. The first is the story of Genie Chance, a reporter for a local radio station who was the first voice back on the radio waves after the earthquake.  The voice of this mother of three evolved from just reporting information to offering a calm, reassurance to the city and ultimately to the world.

The second thread reveals how a community came together in the wake of earthquake.  The expectations of  “the experts of the day” was that in the face of such vast destruction social order and all rational behavior would breakdown. The exact opposite happened as the people of Anchorage came together to do what was necessary to start the recovery process and, more importantly, to help each other.

A subsequent study of how the people of Anchorage acted helped experts understand how communities react in disasters. The last sentence of Jon Mooallem’s book This is Chance! states, “Our force for counteracting chaos is connection.”

This is Chance! tells the story of connections, a reporter with a community and a community with itself.