Catastrophes! is divided into two unequal parts. The first eight chapters cover brief, episodic instances of massive destruction, spanning well-known events from the massive Lisbon earthquake of 1755 to the 2005 landslides that scarred La Conchita, California. News reports and first-hand accounts – including extensive quotations from historic sources going back to Pliny the Younger’s account of Pompeii’s destruction by Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 – document the damage, with Prothero stepping in during the latter half of the chapters to explain the mechanisms of the events and debunk the pseudoscience that sometimes surrounds them. (Earthquakes do not rip open huge chasms that ooze lava, for one thing.) Each part is given its own sub-section, and a list of references appends each chapter, giving the book a semi-technical feel between that of a textbook and a typical trade nonfiction book.
At the outset of chapter 9, though, the book switches perspectives. The early part of the book treats catastrophes that occur in the space of hours, days, or weeks, but the last four chapters pull back to a long-term, geological view that covers ice ages, human-caused climate change, mass extinctions, and threats we are creating to our own survival. (This part acts as an extension of Prothero’s last book Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs, which I also reviewed.) Prothero relaxes into a more personal writing style here, coloring the stories with personal opinions and anecdotes that are relatively thinner elsewhere in the book.
I was particularly interested in Prothero’s chapter on mass extin
Book Review: Catastrophes! | Wired Science | Wired.com
Amazon.com: Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters
Devastating natural disasters have profoundly shaped human history, leaving us with a respect for the mighty power of the earth—and a humbling view of our future. Paleontologist and geologist Donald R. Prothero tells the harrowing human stories behind these catastrophic events.
Prothero describes in gripping detail some of the most important natural disasters in history:
• the New Madrid, Missouri, earthquakes of 1811–1812 that caused church bells to ring in Boston• the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people• the massive volcanic eruptions of Krakatau, Mount Tambora, Mount Vesuvius, Mount St. Helens, and Nevado del Ruiz
His clear and straightforward explanations of the forces that caused these disasters accompany gut-wrenching accounts of terrifying human experiences and a staggering loss of human life.
Floods that wash out whole regions, earthquakes that level a single country, hurricanes that destroy everything in their path—all are here to remind us of how little control we have over the natural world. Dramatic photographs and eyewitness accounts recall the devastation wrought by these events, and the people—both heroes and fools—that are caught up in the earth’s relentless forces.
Eerie, fascinating, and often moving, these tales of geologic history and human fortitude and folly will stay with you long after you put the book down.
Amazon.com: Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters (9780801896927): Donald R. Prothero: Books