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Terra: Tales of the Earth Hardcover – 18 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (18 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330490737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330490733
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,007,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Hamblyn is the author of The Invention of Clouds, which won the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize; Terra: Tales of the Earth, a study of natural disasters, described by the Guardian as 'beautifully written, richly detailed and brilliantly judged'; and The Art of Science: A Natural History of Ideas, a collection of 101 pieces of readable science writing from the Babylonians to the Higgs boson.

He has also written three illustrated books in association with the Met Office: The Cloud Book; Extraordinary Clouds; and Extraordinary Weather, as well editing Daniel Defoe's The Storm for Penguin Classics.

Richard currently teaches on the Creative Writing BA at Birkbeck College, University of London, and is working on a collection of (mostly) true stories about (mostly) made-up landscapes.

Product Description

Review

`[A] thoughtful account of four famous episodes of natural disaster . . . Each horrendous event stimulated yet another step in the systematic attempts to understand why such things happened, and how they might be confronted. What emerges most powerfully from this beautifully written, richly detailed and brilliantly judged book, however, is how much we so often choose not to learn from such events.'
--Guardian

`Hamblyn's book is continuously alert to the narrative potential in these earth-shattering episodes . . . We cannot hold back the tectonic plates or stem the lava flow, but de Pombal and Franklin still have much to teach us when it comes to preparing for the next catastrophe. The event itself, as Hamblyn points out, is rarely as disastrous as the decision we make before or after it happens.'
--Sunday Telegraph

Book Description

Blending history, science and eye-witness accounts, and arranged in chapters corresponding to the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), Terra explores the relationship between the planet and the humans who inhabit its surfaces. Through four case histories -- the Lisbon earthquake of 1755; the weather-panics of the summer of 1783; the eruption of Krakatau in 1883; and the Hilo tsunami of 1946 -- Hamblyn reminds us of the earth's unimaginable force and describes what happens when that force is unleashed, both in terms of the immediate human consequences and the longer term economic and scientific implications. Serving, ultimately, as a stark and incontrovertible reminder of our vulnerability when the earth 'goes wrong', Terra also asks why we don't seem fully able to learn from the catastrophes, mistakes and responses of the past. Praise for Richard Hamblyn's previous book, The Invention of Clouds: 'An elegantly written and richly diverting thesis of unusual interdisciplinary facility' Guardian 'A book that accomplishes that rare feat of changing the reader's perception of the world' Economist

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. O'Brien VINE VOICE on 22 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Richard Tamblyn is a scientist who has a novelist's gift for storytelling and imagery. Instead of simply explaining the causes and effects of natural disasters like earthquake, volcano, tsunami and climate change, he unlocks their cultural resonance by means of metaphor and vivid eyewitness description. As with other literary-minded historians like Peter Ackroyd, Tamblyn chooses a thematic structure for his book, which is divided into four long chapters named after the elements - earth, air, fire and water.

We don't just learn what caused the 1755 Lisbon earthquake: we explore the effect it had on the war between quasi-religious superstition and Enlightenment rationalism. Unable to believe God could destroy a city at prayer in just ten minutes while leaving prisons and brothels untouched, many moved towards a greater understanding of the randomness of nature underlying man's comforting constructions. Over and over again, Tamblyn evokes a sense of the powerful chaos of the natural world - in the tsunami following the quake, Lisbon's river rises up "to strike it in its hour of greatest need" as "the elements declared war upon the city".

Similarly, in the "air" chapter, which deals with the European "weather panic" of 1783, we learn how "the whole of Paris was about to be smothered by its sky". We watch events unfold largely through the eyes of man-on-the-spot Benjamin Franklin: his writings and those of other eyewitnesses of that summer with its dreadful clouds of hot, choking fog make the experience (caused by the eruption of a remote Icelandic volcano) seem as vivid a mystery as it must have been for those who lived through it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David J. Kelly VINE VOICE on 30 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this book Richard Hamblyn sets out to tell the history of four natural disasters that literally changed the world. Each of the events he describes altered human understanding of the world and advanced science and engineering's capability to deliver solutions to some of the effects of these disasters. He also compares these disasters with some modern examples, especially the Boxing Day Tsunami which happened while he was writing this book.

The four events described are the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, the strange fog of the summer of 1783, the eruption of Krakatau in 1883 and the Hilo Tsunami of 1946. In each he describes the event through the writing of eyewitnesses or from contemporary accounts. He sets the cultural and historic context and describes the modern scientific understanding of how each event occurs. He then describes the aftermath and how people reacted, especially those in authority. He looks at how each event advanced the science of studying the earth and in some cases how engineers and builders solved some of the problems these events threw up.

If this all sounds a little dry then that is the wrong impression to take. Some of the characters are vividly painted and the stories are often of great human interest. Hamblyn is an engaging writer and the book is an easy read, showing how human ingenuity overcomes superstition, apathy and ignorance to help ameliorate the effects of future disasters when the will and knowledge allow that to happen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joanne K. Pilsworth VINE VOICE on 16 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was another book which I thought would keep me occupied whilst on holiday. I could not put it down. Taking a major historical event: earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami and the weather, the author has demonstrated though eye-witness records just how much each of the events have shaped future understanding of the effects of nature on the 'civilised' world.

If ever there was a book which advises us to learn from our mistakes, it is this. Lessons were undoubtedly learned, for example, in Hawaii, on how best to handle an incoming tsunami. I had to laugh at the stupidity of the 'surfer types', whose only thought was to ride this big incoming wave. Yet, that was the case then. Now, people realise the damage that an incoming tsunami can do, and know that the best thing to do is to run in the opposite direction. Similarly, the descriptions of tour parties going to see the Krakatoa eruption, with people oblivious to the risks they were taking.

I would say that this is a book which can be read by both 'science' types and 'humanities' types, as both sides can learn from it. Age-wise, I would say anyone over the age of 14 would enjoy this book. In terms of learning from primary sources in history, this book is a good demonstration.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By VINE VOICE on 28 Aug. 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
We have probably all seen the series Earth Story, and its later reincarnation Earth, both of which provide a fascinating introduction to geology. This book follows a different course, following the build up to, occurrence and aftermath of each of four particular catastrophes viewed through eyewitness accounts.

Earth, air, fire, water. The four ancient elements before the periodic table gave us 92+ to play with. However, each of the four embodies a particular natural disaster, and we see one of each as though we had been there.

The book starts with the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Most of the city was destroyed. But it doesn't stop with the destruction of homes, palaces and churches: many works of art were also destroyed, as were the records of Vasco da Gama's explorations. All these are gone forever as though they had never existed.

However, the aftermath lead to the first ever detailed record of an earthquake, detailed enough to allow us to now reconstruct what happened then. This was ordered by the then Prime Minister, who could be regarded as the first ever seismologist, Sebastião de Melo, Marquis of Pombal.

Read this if you are interested in geology, or to provide background reading for a school project.
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