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KLIATTLiving near the San Andreas Fault, one can become so inured to the frequent tremors that he gradually forgets that living in California has always been something of a gamble. Sure, there was the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906, and nearly every week someone helpfully reminds Californians that they are long overdue for "The Big One." Life goes on, however, and gradually the warnings lose their punch. It takes a book like this one to remind the citizens that sudden devastation is never far away, and that their state has hosted a wide array of calamities over the years. Some of these blows were initiated--or at least worsened--by bad human judgment, but even in those cases the inexorable laws of nature made the situation much worse. Take, for example, the creation of a huge and useless sea. Prior to 1905, the Salton Sink was a hellishly hot but thriving agricultural area lying along the bottom of the lowest geological point in North America. An ill-considered canal project, however, combined with three years of heavy rains in the Southwest to bring the Colorado River brimming over its banks. Gravity did the rest, and for three years the great river surged into the hapless valley. By the time the Colorado was finally coaxed back to its normal bed, a 38-mile-long lake covered towns, farms, and rail lines. High evaporation rates and lack of an outlet soon turned the dry sump into America's very own Dead Sea, picturesque but useless. Fifteen years later, a flotilla of US Navy destroyers was steaming down the rocky coastline of the Santa Barbara channel when it encountered a heavy fog bank. A faulty navigational estimate in the lead ship, an imperious commodore, and starchy navaldiscipline soon led the small warships into a deadly game of follow-the-leader onto the rocks. Their rusty hulks may be seen in the pounding surf to this day, a peacetime disaster unmatched by any other navy in the world. This collection of catastrophes is nothing if not varied: the Donner pioneers starving atop a frozen ridge; an assortment of fires and airplane crashes; a flawed dam; and even an anarchist bombing. The authors know how to write respectfully, but still zestfully, about events that will enthrall YAs and still make old-timers shake their heads. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2006, Globe Pequot, Insiders Guide, 185p. illus. maps., $13.95.. Ages 15 to adult.