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Terra: Tales of the Earth [Hardcover]

Richard Hamblyn
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Sep 2009
Human responses to natural disasters

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (18 Sep 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 (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 61,882 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


`[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.'

`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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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic disasters brought vividly to life 21 Oct 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Richard Hamblyn describes four natural disasters under the following headings: Fire - The eruption of Krakatua; Water - The Hilo Tsunami; Earth - The Lisbon Earthquake; Air - European weather panic.

Each of the disasters is scrupulously researched using historical data and first hand accounts. If this sounds dull I can only say that in Hamblyn's hands each of the tales is vividly brought to life in the most exciting and satisfying way, without resorting to over dramatisation.This is an immensely readable book which I found enthralling. Anyone interested in the kind of natural destructive occurrences which occur on our planet will find much to enjoy in this extremely well written, informative and exhilirating read. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Geology with a human side 16 Oct 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
'Terra' examines natural disasters such as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the eruption of Krakatau in 1863, and the Hilo Tsunami in 1946, from the perspective of human impact and how we learn from past catastrophes. We learn very little from them, is the conclusion of this book. Although we are increasingly aware of the ongoing and imminent dangers of the living Earth, we make surprisingly little progress or change, for example cutting corners in buidling regulations in known earthqauke zones. This book is full of such surprising eye-openers as this, and underlines the frailty of human civilsation, as well as the arrogance in our failure to adapt to the volatile nature of the Earth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Joanne K. Pilsworth VINE VOICE
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
4.0 out of 5 stars How hope can rise from the ashes of despair 30 Sep 2009
By David J. Kelly VINE VOICE
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
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Reasons not to live on a subduction zone
Interesting historical perspectives on tectonic-related phenomena from around the world. Voices and theories from the time offer great texture and it's put together with due... Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by Maclennane
5.0 out of 5 stars Terra: Tales of the Earth
As quite a spiritual person this book has certainly challenged my views and perception of the earth and history. Read more
Published on 24 Jun 2011 by Ghost of Kai
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth The Read
Took me a while to finish reading this but I finally managed. Not generally a book I would go out of my way to read and as a result of this I did find it a little slow and... Read more
Published on 11 Dec 2010 by Markie
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Natural' disasters through human eyes
This book uses a handful of natural disasters and their effects and through that mechanism allows the reader to confront the questions that often haunt such events: why the scale... Read more
Published on 20 Aug 2010 by Paul Munro
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts well but could be shorter
The book starts well, the description of the Lisbon earthquake is a real page-turner. However, the book rather drags on by the our 3rd earthquake. Read more
Published on 17 Dec 2009 by sam
4.0 out of 5 stars Four devastating natural disasters narrated largely from eye-witness...
A narration of four events that changed the world, all natural disasters. Each disaster chosen corresponds to one of the four natural elements - earth, air, fire, water - showing... Read more
Published on 17 Dec 2009 by S. Barnes
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivid account of natural and human disasters
Hamblyn dissects four natural disasters, under the headings of Earth (Lisbon earthquake 1755), Air (European 'weather panic' 1783), Fire (Krakatau 1883) and Water (Hawaii Tsunami... Read more
Published on 6 Dec 2009 by Jason Mills
4.0 out of 5 stars To paraphrase Napoleon, Geophysics Explains History.
As someone working in engineering with a scientific background, I've often felt that it is a shame that modern life is so compartmentalised and focussed on specialisations. Read more
Published on 22 Oct 2009 by bomble
4.0 out of 5 stars High quality account of the nature's destructive potential
This book tells four tales of disaster: the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon in 1755, the atmospherically polluting eruption of Iceland's Mount Laki in 1783, the volcanic... Read more
Published on 12 Oct 2009 by r0ng0r0ng0
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