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Perils of a Restless Planet: Scientific Perspectives on Natural Disasters Hardcover – 13 Jun 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st Edition edition (13 Jun. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521573742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521573740
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 957,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'… [a] perceptive and readable book … [the author] has achieved a seamless combination of useful and unusual examples, placed in a scientific framework that makes sense of the apparent chaos … in Perils of a Restless Planet he presents a polished summary of the basic science necessary to understand the Earth's catastrophic upheavals … this book would be a valuable teaching aid, both for potential scientists and those who need to know about science from another perspective ... overall, this book is such a good read … Snippets of information and awesome facts and figures thread through this book … a valuable source for those who want to catch the imagination of children … For the rest of us, this is a readable way to ponder how increasing numbers of us can continue to live on such a restless planet.' Sue Bowler, New Scientist

' … a fascinating trawl through history's natural mishaps … both entertaining and informative, full of little-known and very amusing facts.' Paul Brown, The Guardian

' … Zebrowski brings a physical science perspective to bear on the problem of natural disasters, and the result is a provocative, energetic and readable account of the 'perils' of a restless planet … as a stimuylating and intelligent … discussion of the scientific basis of natural disasters there is much in here to be recommended.' David Pyle, Geology Magazine

'Perils of a Restless Planet is exciting reading. It would be superb for a lower-division course emphasizing the methodologies of science and engineering the importance of humility in the face of natural powers and the value of good design.' Physics Today

'… written in an easy yet informative style … [this book] provides an original insight into natural disasters and their causes. It will be a refreshing read for hazard scientists and students, as well as the world at large.' Bill McGuire, Nature

'This is a very readable and enjoyable book. Written by a Pennsylvanian physics professor, it outlines the 'awesome' power of Earth's natural phenomena, particularly those which affect human existence. ... What distinguishes this book from many another in the 'disaster and hazards' genre is that it integrates, quite seamlessly, discussions about the philosophy and methodology of scientific enquiry with concise explanations of the key scientific ideas (e.g. forces, naturual selection, waves theory) needed to underpin proper attempts to answer the how?, why?, what effect?, what can we do?, can we predict?, will we ever know? questions. This book will give many readers fresh insights into science and, furthermore, will indicate how the results of experiments taught in the school/college lab can be translated with real meaning to take on some of the challenges of the natural environment. Thoroughly recommended to all.' Duncan Hawley, School Science Review

'Perils of a Restless Planet is exciting reading. It would be superb for a lower-division course emphasizing the methodologies of science and engineering, the importance of humility in the face of natural powers and the value of good design.' Physics Today

'On All Saints' Day in 1775, most residents of Lisbon, Portugal, were in church; little did they know they were being read their last rites. The first of three tsunamis hit at 9:40 am. Fire then engulfed the city, sparing survivors the pestilence sure to accompany the resulting 40,000 or so dead bodies. Zebrowski revisits some of the greatest horrors engendered by Mother Nature over the last thousand years and explains how they can be predicted and how they work.' Science News

'… makes for not only the gripping reading experience of a first-class mystery novel, but also provides a compelling account of the status of the species Homo Sapiens on the threshold of a new and very uncertain millennium.' Choice

' … an extremely lucid description and thoughtful analysis of what we face living on a restless planet'. Endeavour

'It is an unexpected pleasure to get more than you pay for. Ernest Zebrowski, Jr's splendid book Perils of a Restless Planet provides just such a rare delight. The volume includes volcanoes, plagues, earthquakes, asteroids, tsunamis, tornadoes, and more … He seems to be that rarity, a careful and precise scientist who can tell a good story.' Science Books and Films

'This is a very well-written, well-illustrated and fascinating book.' Ignaz Vergeiner, Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics

'This book will give many readers fresh insights into science and furthermore will indicate how the results of experiments taught in the school/college lab. can be translated with real meaning to take on some of the challenges of the natural environment. Thoroughly recommended to all.' Teaching Earth Sciences

'Perils is a fascinating read about the science of natural disasters that strike randomly and often with grotesque human toll.' Jearl Walker, Cleveland State University

'A wide-ranging, gratifyingly lively investigation into the more violent ravings of Mother Nature … it is nature's fury that makes this book vibrate.' Kirkus Reviews

Book Description

Natural disasters continue to claim human lives and wreak havoc. Perils of a Restless Planet examines our current and past attempts to understand and anticipate these phenomena and their impact. Drawing upon case studies, the author suggests how we may someday learn to warn and protect the planet's vulnerable populations.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 July 1999
Format: Hardcover
I read this book after reading a review of it in New Scientist magazine. Dealing with the natural disasters that scar the planet, this book is a wonderful read. Few of the books I have read manage to convey information in such an imaginitive way. This book goes into sufficient detail to be both informative and useful, but not enough to be tiresome or dull. The descriptions Zebrowski provides are truly stunning, creating vivid images in the mind. Perhaps a picture can say a thousand words, this book can describe a thousand pictures. I had trouble putting this book down. Buy it. Read it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At the end of every year, I ask myself which was the best book I had read that year. "Perils of a Restless Planet" had no serious competition whatsoever in any genre. Despite its age (published 1997), I found it more useful than several current postgraduate texts in the field of natural disasters. It is written for the general reader in a highly engaging style that makes it hard to put down. Every concept makes immediate sense, without the need to repeatedly read the same text in order to try and ascertain what the writer was actually trying to say. Indeed, the only reason you will want to re-read parts of the book (and you will) is because it is such a pleasure to do so. Perhaps it is the fact that it is intended for a non-academic audience that it does such a fantastic job of describing real historical events before making extensive forays into the relevant background science. If, at the end of every chapter, you do not wish to go away and explore in greater detail a whole heap of things that you have just read about then I can only assume that you have no genuine interest in humanity, the planet, or the interactions between the two. If there is ever a second edition of this book then I will be at the front of the queue to get it. Nobody could do a better job of explaining the new developments (historical and scientific) of the last 15 years.
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Format: Paperback
Delivery took about three weeks as the item came from the USA but it was well packaged and a good price.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Interesting stories with the science behind them 31 Aug. 2001
By Duwayne Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book while in Cambridge, strolling through one of the bookstores in town. Thumbing through the pages, it looked like a collection of stories about natural disasters - something I thought would be interesting reading in the evening, after poking around old cathedrals, castles, and local pubs. Anyway, it was father's day and my wife offered to get it as a present - I gladly accepted and began reading it right away.
It wasn't the book I expected. Sure, it has lots of stories about notable natural disasters, but it's much more than just sensational accounts. It's actually a well-thought-out science book with some excellent material about the nature of science in general, complete with basic tutorials on such things as strengths of materials, wave propagation, the weather, and chaos.
The book begins with an account of the 1755 disaster that virtually destroyed Lisbon. The catastrophe consisted of an offshore earthquake that leveled much of the city (especially the un-reinforced buildings of stone masonry) followed by a tsunami and fires that basically destroyed what was left. This chapter also tells the story of the destruction of Thera (today called Santorin or Santorini) in the Aegean Sea. This island volcano erupted catastrophically, destroying most of it approximately 1600 B.C. An interesting part of this story is the conjecture that the catastrophe led to the eventual downfall of the civilization on Crete, not far away.
The book then switches modes, temporarily, with a very nice expose on the evolution of science, and what science is. I especially appreciated Zebrowski's illustration of the basic assumptions in science, and how the philosophy and methods of science have evolved since Aristotle.
Have you ever wondered at the differences in casualties between different cities? Well, you should. Zebrowski compares two remarkable catastrophes to make a point. One was the earthquake that struck San Francisco in 1906, and the other was an earthquake that hit Messina in 1908. Both earthquakes were of roughly the same magnitude, but the death toll was far greater n Messina than in San Francisco. The difference? Construction. In Messina the buildings were made primarily of un-reinforced stone masonry, while in San Francisco they were mostly made of wood. This serves as the introduction to a chapter that illustrates many important and basic ideas about the strengths of materials, and how the proper selection of such materials can make tremendous differences in how buildings survive earthquakes. If you live in earthquake country this chapter will be particularly relevant.
One of the things I liked best about this book is how it takes the reader through so many different topics. There are examples of deep lakes with dissolved carbon dioxide. When disturbed by something like a landslide, this deep water can be rolled to the surface, and with the pressure released, belches large quantities of carbon dioxide across the countryside. The carbon dioxide hugs the ground, displacing oxygen and causing death by suffocation.
Zebrowski has one of the best basic descriptions of exponential population growth that I've seen, and he follows it up with a real-life example of what happens when human population growth goes unchecked, with the example of Easter Island. The basic lesson here is that, with rapid doubling times, by the time you realize you have a problem it's probably already out of control. Quite possibly the greatest threat facing the human race today is our unchecked population growth. And by the time everyone realizes - or is finally forced to admit - that it's a problem, it could be too late to do much about it. Every government and religious leader needs to be familiar with the arguments that Zebrowski puts forward in this chapter.
There are too many other examples to go into much detail. Zebrowski discusses things like evolution, and how natural disasters affect the evolution (and extinction) of species. Other topics include the bubonic plagues, epidemics, discussions about tsunamis (including some good stuff on wave motion and tides), earthquakes, different scales for measuring the energy released in earthquakes, volcanoes, and asteroid impacts. In all these cases the author makes a point of illustrating the effect of these catastrophes by recounting historical examples. But what I liked best was the way he delves into the science behind each type of natural catastrophe.
The last chapter on natural disasters deals with hurricanes and tornadoes. This leads naturally to the book's closing topics of irreproducible phenomena and chaos. There are better books on chaos, but this was not Zebrowski's primary topic. His chapter makes a nice introduction to the subject. The point of his closing remarks is that the science of natural disasters is intermingled with the unpredictability of chaos, and that some fundamentally new science is needed to make additional significant progress in dealing with predictions of things like earthquakes and hurricanes. Some of the material in this last chapter might be a bit difficult to understand if you haven't had some prior exposure to the subject (it tends to be a little abbreviated).
Overall, this is a wonderful book. It's informative, well written, nicely illustrated, heavily referenced, has a complete index, and (most importantly) the practical information within it might even save your life. It's well worth reading, in my opinion, if you like science and are a little bit curious about our restless planet.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Better than fiction! 5 Aug. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Perils" is a lucid and riveting exegesis on natural disasters. I especially enjoyed the analyses of historical events in light of modern theories and technologies and was particularly impressed by the fact that Zebrowski could make chaos theory so darned accessible! If his teaching style is as absorbing as his writing his students should count themselves fortunate. You should read this.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Extremely interesting book on science of disasters.... 10 May 2007
By K. L Sadler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've long been interested in climate, weather, and geological sciences that have very little to do with the science of the body or biology that I usually teach or that I read for. I didn't get much of this science in school, and I find it fascinating, though of course, it makes me extremely uneasy to read information like this after we have had several very large natural disasters that led to major suffering on the part of human beings partly through our own fault, and partly as a natural condition of being part of an eco-system that is very much impacted by what we humans do.

This book is not just the usual listing of catastrophic happenings, but rather a few major events are listed with significant information about what either led up to the event, or how the event happened, or how and why it impacted civilization. A lot of this stuff was a mix of several different ways of looking at disasters, including epidemiology and population statistics, things that are not usually looked at until way after the event, and even then, are dismissed. But we dismiss this type of study at our own peril. After Katrina, people should understand more that if you put a city near an immense body of water, with no protection for that city, whether natural or otherwise, there will be consequences of that action. Whether that consequence occurs during the lifetime of the people who build that city without thinking on the edge of a precipice, or whether it occurs during their children's lifetime, has little or no bearing on the deliverance of those consequences.

This book is a must read for urban engineers and urban planning. Whether dealing with environmental impact of building unsafely, or the population statistcs of whether an area can adequately support an exponentially growing population without leading to problems such as that seen on Easter Island where a small environment could not support a large population adequately, is up for grabs. I would hope that those who come after us would do better at taking such concerns to heart when planning communities.

Karen L. Sadler
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Scientific Perspectives on Natural Disasters 20 May 2002
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ernest Zebrowski, Jr. is both a teacher and a story-teller in "Perils of a Restless Planet." I picked the book up to review it and found myself reading it from cover to cover all over again.
Stylistically, the author will begin with the story of, say, the San Francisco earthquake (1906). He then compares it to the Messina earthquake (1908), and asks why there were so many more casualties in the Messina quake (only a 33% - 45% survival rate as compared to San Francisco's 99.8% survival rate). This question leads to a discussion of the strengths of materials---how well they perform when deformed by tension, compression, shear, and torsion. In San Francisco, the houses were built of wood, which will bend and twist and allow its occupants time to escape during a quake. The houses in Messina were built of stone. "It is this plastic behavior of wood (versus stone) that explains the dramatic difference in survival rates in the San Francisco and Messina earthquakes of 1906 and 1908."
There's lots of physics (and some biology, archeology, and sociology) in 'Perils' but it is all very clear and palatable. In fact, this book would make a good overview of science for high school students. It's got stories of volcanoes, plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, asteroids, and poisonous lakes to hold the students' interest. The clear physical explanations of, for example, why some boats will float during a tsunami and others will turn turtle, are an excellent foundation for further explorations into the worlds of science. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how we've managed to survive and even thrive on the surface of such a restless planet. It is an excellent summary of the science necessary to understand many of the Earth's natural catastrophes.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Couldn't put it down 5 Aug. 2004
By Andreas Mross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
One of the best books I've read in a long time. This is popular science done right! For a start, the writing is very clear and the author manages to explain some complicated subjects in a straightforward manner.
A book on natural disasters wouldn't be complete without exciting tales of death, mayhem and general destruction. In this book, the author proves himself a first rate yarn spinner. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what happened when Mont Pelee exploded or when Lisbon was swamped by a tsunami.
This is the kind of science book I like. It assumes no prior knowledge of the subject, yet also assumes the reader is intelligent and can grasp new concepts. For example, the second chapter (in a book on natural disasters) is titled "The Evolution of Science" and provides a lucid and compact summary of the history and philosophy of science, no less! Bravo! Another great thing is the auther is always ready to point out the limitations of current science or current techniques. Some authors tend to gloss over the unknowns and pretend they know everything.
You can learn a lot from this book. Each page is dense with scientific information, with no filler. What to do if involved in an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami or volcano. How to build a house. How the richter scale works. Its all in there. And the author isn't afraid to throw a few equations into the mix to illustrate the science behind the discussed phenomenon.
If you are a thinker, you will love this book. Guaranteed!
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