The thrilling, cinematic story of a community shattered by disaster—and the extraordinary woman who helped pull it back together
“A powerful, heart-wrenching book, as much art as it is journalism.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A beautifully wrought and profoundly joyful story of compassion and perseverance.”—BuzzFeed (Best Books of the Year)
In the spring of 1964, Anchorage, Alaska, was a modern-day frontier town yearning to be a metropolis—the largest, proudest city in a state that was still brand-new. But just before sundown on Good Friday, the community was jolted by the most powerful earthquake in American history, a catastrophic 9.2 on the Richter Scale. For four and a half minutes, the ground lurched and rolled. Streets cracked open and swallowed buildings whole. And once the shaking stopped, night fell and Anchorage went dark. The city was in disarray and sealed off from the outside world.
Slowly, people switched on their transistor radios and heard a familiar woman’s voice explaining what had just happened and what to do next. Genie Chance was a part-time radio reporter and working mother who would play an unlikely role in the wake of the disaster, helping to put her fractured community back together. Her tireless broadcasts over the next three days would transform her into a legendary figure in Alaska and bring her fame worldwide—but only briefly. That Easter weekend in Anchorage, Genie and a cast of endearingly eccentric characters—from a mountaineering psychologist to the local community theater group staging Our Town—were thrown into a jumbled world they could not recognize. Together, they would make a home in it again.
Drawing on thousands of pages of unpublished documents, interviews with survivors, and original broadcast recordings, This Is Chance! is the hopeful, gorgeously told story of a single catastrophic weekend and proof of our collective strength in a turbulent world.
There are moments when reality instantly changes—when the life we assume is stable gets upended by pure chance. This Is Chance! is an electrifying and lavishly empathetic portrayal of one community rising above the randomness, a real-life fable of human connection withstanding chaos.
Journalist Mooallem (Wild Ones) vividly dramatizes the impact of the 9.2-magnitude Great Alaska Earthquake on the residents of Anchorage in this poignant chronicle. Striking "just before sundown" on March 27, 1964, the earthquake shut down the electrical grid and sent "four-foot-high ground waves" rolling through city streets. Mooallem centers his narrative on local reporter Genie Chance, who was running an errand with her 13-year-old son when the earthquake hit. After dropping him at home with her husband and two younger children, Chance headed to the collapsed J.C. Penney department store downtown to photograph the damage. As soon as her radio station returned to the air, she began broadcasting from the mobile unit in her car, sharing reports from civic leaders, issuing a tsunami warning, and reassuring her listeners "that the world had not come to an end." She later estimated that she talked for 30 hours straight, and Mooallem credits her and numerous other municipal officials and civilian volunteers with keeping the "modern-day frontier town" from descending into chaos. Interweaving accounts of search-and-rescue operations with the story of a local production of Our Town staged the weekend after the earthquake, Mooallem delivers a moving tribute to the spirit of community in the face of disaster. This inspiring tale feels bound for the big-screen.