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Perils of a Restless Planet: Scientific Perspectives on Natural Disasters [Hardcover]

Ernest Zebrowski Jr
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Jun 1997
From epidemics and earthquakes to tornadoes and tidal waves, the overwhelming power of Nature never ceases to instil humankind with both terror and awe. As natural disasters continue to claim human lives and wreak havoc in their wake, Perils of a Restless Planet examines our attempts to understand and anticipate such phenomena. Drawing upon case studies from ancient to present times, this book focuses on scientific inquiry, technological innovation and public policy to provide a lucid and riveting look at natural disasters. While shedding light on the elusive quality of Nature and the limits scientific study and laboratory replication impose on our understanding of her mercurial ways, the author extrapolates from the history of science to suggest how we may someday learn to warn and protect vulnerable populations on our small and tempestuous planet. Anyone interested in the power of Nature will find this book compelling and informative.

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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: 23.6 x 16.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,288,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'… [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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who needs television with writing like this? 6 July 1999
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite read of 2011 16 July 2012
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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4.0 out of 5 stars perils of a restless planet 10 Nov 2011
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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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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
5.0 out of 5 stars 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
4.0 out of 5 stars awesome history 22 July 2012
By Kristin B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I got this book because it was written by my college professor and it was our textbook for his coarse. I have kept it because it shows the history of our earth and many of the past natural disasters. It is a great historical book for anyone who loves science , nature, and anything having to do with Earth's natural phenomena. I have actually used it as reference for many disasters i see happening around the world. Knowing more about what happened in a particular region also gives you a sense of awe when you see how these past events have shaped or changed the way people in that region live. Very good book in my opinion.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Natural Disasters for a General Audience 8 May 2010
By Gustavus Student - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Zebrowski's book is a passionate wish for the general public to understand natural disasters and their widespread web of destructive influence on the global community. The strength of this book is in Zebrowski's writing, he writes clearly and with an artistic flourish. For a reader coming from a non-science background the book is easy to understand and informative. In many sections Zebrowski goes on a scientific tangent to explain a natural disaster.The book chronicles earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes, asteroid impacts, human epidemics, tornados and hurricanes.This book is not for the researcher, professor or upper level course student of geography, as it would be too elementary, however historians or researchers in other humanities and social sciences would find this an approachable take on natural causes behind these events which have greatly affected human history.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read 18 Jan 2010
By S. Bush - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The details of the book have been covered in prior reviews so I'll be brief: Mr. Zebrowski has woven together a large chunk of credible natural science with a good dose of human & historical 'leavening' to create a fascinating tale. This book will be devoured non-stop by those with a bent for science & natural disasters, but is also engrossing for those with little knowledge or background in either. He manages to throw a very broad net, ranging from the origins of the scientific method to modern events, their societal impact and the science behind them without getting mired down in the depths of any area or field. The elemental subject is 'natural disasters' but it really covers much more than that. It is refreshing to read a book like this.

I've recommended this book to friends and family who have also enjoyed it. A great read!
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