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Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 26 Jan 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 Jan. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192804936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192804938
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1 x 11.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 127,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


Review from previous edition A very enjoyable if somewhat frightening read (Latest Homes 14/05/2002)

This book is racy, pacy, opinionated, sassy and fun [...] an ideal holiday read, in fact (Geoscientist)

each chapter does cover the current state of knowledge with impressive thoroughness, often backed by striking facts and figures (New Scientist 13/04/2002)

I would heartily recommend Bill McGuire's potted history of the Earth and its many mechanicanisms of destruction ( 16/04/2002)

The book is pacy and terrifying (Literary Review 01/04/2002)

a convincing, gripping and, at times. terrifying, case (TNT Magazine 18/03/02)

If you like self mutilation, this book will make a humorous light read at bedtime (Front Magazine, 01/04/2002)

About the Author

Bill McGuire is Benfield Professor of Geophysical Hazards at University College London, Director of the University's Benfield Hazard Research Centre, and a member of the Natural Hazard Working Group, established by the UK government in the wake of the Asian tsunami disaster. A volcanologist by training and inclination, he has published over three hundred papers, books and articles on volcanoes and other natural hazards. Bill regularly contributes to newspapers, television and radio, and his popular science books include Volcanoes of the World, Apocalypse: A Natural History of Global Disasters, Raging Planet: The Tectonic Threat to Life on Earth, and Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
We are so used to seeing on our television screens the battered remains of cities pounded by earthquakes or the thousands of terrified refugees escaping from yet another volcanic blast that they no longer hold any surprise or fear for us, insulated as we are by distance and a lack of true empathy. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Yehezkel Dror on 6 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Technology and Society: Building Our Sociotechnical Future (Inside Technology Series) The Capacity to Govern: A Report to the Club of Rome

As far as natural catastrophes not caused in part by human action are concerned, this is an important book well presenting complex issues in ways understandable to the non-professional. But when moving into catastrophes caused, at least in part by human action, the book misses a lot.
There are also some oversimplifications and exaggerations. Thus, on pages 38-39 the author states "all the great reefs will be dead and gone within 50 years...obliterated by warmer seas just so that some of us can continue to live, or strive for, lives of conspicuous consumption." With due appreciation for the great reefs, it is hard to regard their disappearance as a "catastrophe" in line with those discussed in the book. And to explain the warmer seas in terms of conspicuous consumption is a gross oversimplification, to put it delicately.
As the author takes up humanity-caused global warming and its repercussions, some of which may indeed by catastrophic as rightly pointed out in the book, then other anthropogenic (caused by human action) possible and in part likely catastrophes should have been extensively discussed, such as resulting from biotechnology, robotics and nano-technologies. But these are not taken up, though their probability is much higher than that of a large comet hitting earth which is discussed. This reduces the comprehensiveness of the book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By GoatHorns on 9 May 2008
Format: Paperback
This book is very nice: well written and concise - ideal for the beginner who wants a broad coverage of a fascinating topic. This is certainly one of the better 'short introductions' on the market.

The introductory chapter serves as a good overview for the rest of the book, while the proceeding chapters about global warming and the possibility of an ice age are both good. The text is fact-heavy but still flows nicely, telling a clear story. While the authors own views are certainly evident, he also mentions the ideas of other scientists (some contraversial and some downright mad).

The book goes on to discuss the threat and possible consequences of geological events such as super-volcanic eruptions, mega-tsunami's and city-destroying earthquakes. He not only considers the Earth sceince behind these phenomena, but the economic impact is also covered, albeit superficially. I found the chapter about the 'Threat from Space' particularly interesting (and disturbing).

I give the book 4 stars and not 5 because, i my opinion, it lacked scientific depth. I believe, even in a book so small and introductory, that the author could have given a little more explanation of the science. Perhpas he neglected to do this in the fear of scaring off potential readers who don't want too much of an intellectual challenge, or perhaps he was concerned with making the book too long for the format of the series (though he does repeat himself several times, so cutting down the words would not have been too difficult). A bit more technical science would have been welcome.

Overall, a very nice read with a pessimistic (but probably realistic) outlook.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Andy on 31 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A short book that is thoroughly readable, though ultimately it doesn't teach you anything essential and as such there isn't much to take away from it, nor is it particularly memorable. Still, it passed the time on a long train journey.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By The Wanderer on 3 April 2008
Format: Paperback
The Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press has a good reputation for presenting challenging subjects in an easily accessible manner. "Global Catastrophes" by Bill McGuire is one of its very best examples. Originally published in 2002 as "A Guide to the End of the World", it has since been updated to include events as recent as 2005, with a new preface as well as a fully revised text and bibliography.

The book deals exclusively with environmental phenomena rather than man-made, technological disasters. In each chapter McGuire explores the evidence for - as well as the likely effects of - different catastrophes that could, in the near future, put an end to human civilisation, namely global warming, a new ice age, supervolanoes and other tectonic hazards, and lastly asteroidal impact. His mastery of the material is clear, and at every stage he is careful to back up his arguments with facts and figures drawn from scientific studies and computer models. At the same time his style is conversational and makes on the whole for easy reading, although occasionally the analogies he chooses tend to confuse rather than illuminate.

The opening chapter on global warming is the book's tour de force - as well as probably the most relevant for the reader today - providing a succinct summary of the main issues and sources of contention. McGuire pulls no punches, making it clear just how unprecedented is the effect that human industrial activity is having on the global climate, and how our planet is hotter now than it has been for 90% of its history. For any sceptics of climate change, or of its future implications for our civilisation, this will be a potent wake-up call.
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