Best known to contemporary readers as the author of The Call of the Wild and White Fang, Jack London (1876-1916) was one of the most popular and highly regarded journalists of his time. Thanks to his crisp narrative style and fine eye for detail, London's prose is as readable today as it was a century ago.
In a vivid first-person account, Story of an Eyewitness (which appears in our collection of Classic British and American Essays), London shows how and why the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire would be remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. To make sure that you have read London's piece carefully, take this brief quiz, and then compare your responses with the answers at the bottom of the page.
Reading Quiz on "Story of an Eyewitness: The San Francisco Earthquake"
- London's article is organized chronologically, beginning with the first shock of the earthquake on "Wednesday morning at a quarter past five." How many days and nights are covered in London's story?
- According to London, what man-made device was "lavishly used" to crumble "many of San Francisco's proudest structures . . . into ruins"?
(A) nuclear weapons
(E) military tanks
- On "Wednesday night while the whole city crashed and roared into ruin," what observation does London make about the behavior of San Francisco's citizens?
(A) People were kind and courteous, with no shouting or yelling.
(B) There was panic in the streets, with people running aimlessly and screaming in fear and despair.
(C) Many people were looting shops and attacking one another.
(D) The few remaining survivors gathered in a church to pray.
(E) People were drinking alcohol and dancing wildly in the streets.
- On Wednesday night, according to London, as "tens of thousands fled before the flames," what one thing did people hold on to the longest?
(A) their bibles
(B) their photograph albums
(C) their trunks
(D) their money
(E) their official documents
- By nine o'clock on Wednesday evening, even though "miles and miles of magnificent buildings" remained in perfect order, London concluded that the city "was doomed, all of it." Why?
(A) No water was left to douse the approaching fire.
(B) The remaining citizens had lost the will to fight the fire.
(C) Further shocks would soon reduce the remainder of the city to rubble.
(D) London believed that God was punishing San Francisco and that God's wrath could not be avoided.
(E) The fire-fighters had all abandoned the city.
- Which one of the following details does London not observe on his walk through the city early on Thursday morning?
(A) the shattered dome of the City Hall
(B) wreckage piled high on Market Street
(C) a dozen roasted steers in a neat row on Mission Street
(D) a mother crying out for her lost children
(E) a sickly light and a pall of smoke, but no sun
- What hopeful observation does London make at the end of his article?
(A) Thanks to the immediate relief given by the whole United States, there is not the slightest possibility of a famine.
(B) Most of the finest residences in the city escaped unharmed.
(C) Miraculously, no one died in the fire.
(D) A natural disaster as terrible as this one could never again occur in the United States.
(E) Most of the citizens of San Francisco were able to return to their homes.
1. B; 2. D; 3. A; 4. C; 5. A; 6. D; 7. A.