Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters Hardcover – 27 May 2011
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"If you want to learn more about these disasters than just what's in the news headlines, this is the book for you."(Ian Paulsen Birdbooker Report)
"During a time when global climate change is becoming an increasing concern and details of global catastrophes arrive on our computer screens as they unfold elsewhere, Prothero’s book is a useful guide to the mechanisms and effects of some of nature’s most frightening events."(Brian Switek Laelaps blog, Wired.com)
"Fascinating reading, if somewhat terrifying... Prothero explains the geologic and meteorological forces behind disasters, emphasizing the science with examples of real-world events, giving us a three-dimensional view of not only the natural processes involved but the human and monetary toll, as well."(Libbie Martin Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
"This book... has the bases covered. Prothero is an engaging writer."(Natural Hazards Observer)
About the Author
Donald R. Prothero is a professor of geology at Occidental College and coeditor or author of many books, including Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals and The Evolution of Artiodactyls, both published by Johns Hopkins.
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In summary - this is a well written book directed to a reader interested in the science behind natural disasters.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
“Catastrophes!" is a first-rate look at natural disasters from a more paleontological approach. Inspired by the catastrophe of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, acclaimed science author and educator Donald R. Prothero provides not only a fascinating look at catastrophes by category but shares many stories of the scientists and people affected by them. This captivating 360-page book includes the following twelve chapters: 1. Earthquakes The Earth in Upheaval, 2. Tsunamis The Sea Rises Up, 3. Volcanoes Hell’s Cauldron, 4. Landslides Gravity Always Wins, 5. Floods Raging Waters, 6. Hurricanes, Cyclones, and Typhoons Nature on the Rampage, 7. Tornadoes Funnels of Death 8 Blizzards White Death, 9. Ice Ages Frozen Planet, 10. Greenhouse Planet Too Hot to Handle?, 11. Mass Extinctions When Life Nearly Died, and 12. Can We Survive Nature—and Our Own Folly?
1. Well-written, accessible, page turner of a science book. Mixes in historical narratives with science, fun and enlightening.
2. A fascinating topic in the hands of a subject matter expert. With a Ph.D. in geological sciences and authorship of many books and scientific papers, Prothero has earned my trust as a high-quality science writer.
3. Great use of visual materials. Plenty of charts and photos.
4. A solid introductory history to modern geology.
5. Goes through the birth of modern seismology while narrating historical earthquakes.
6. Throughout the book myths are debunked. “Many people believe in the myth of earthquake weather. Supposedly, great earthquakes happen during unusually hot days. In reality, there is no correlation between the occurrence of earthquakes and weather, daytime temperature, or time of day.”
7. Unbelievable facts. “As the Indian plate is pushed under the Burma plate, it produces a huge subduction zone that is responsible for the island nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. The fault line of this plate boundary formed a rupture about 400 km (250 miles) long and 100 km (60 miles) wide, which was located 30 km (19 miles) beneath the seabed—the longest rupture ever caused by an earthquake. The energy released by the quake was about 550 million times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.”
8. Goes through the different kinds of eruptions. “Not all volcanoes explode like Vesuvius, Krakatau, Tambora, or Mont Pelée. Hawaiian volcanoes, familiar from nature films, erupt with relatively thin lava flows but do not blow their tops in a catastrophic explosion.”
9. Find out what country has the deadliest volcanoes and why.
10. The underrated catastrophe of landslides. “A Richter magnitude 8 earthquake struck off the coast of Peru on May 31, 1970, to cause one of the deadliest landslides in recent history.”
11. A look at some of the world’s deadliest floods.
12. A fascinating look at the hurricanes of 2005. “The year 2005 was turning out to be the worst hurricane season in recorded history. By the end of the season in January 2006, there were a record 28 large, officially named tropical storms, and a record 15 had become hurricanes.”
13. Find out the costliest natural disaster in American history.
14. Debunking popular tornado myths.
15. Inside the “Storm of the Century” 1993. “The storm caused about $6.6 billion in damage, making it one of the most costly blizzards in American history. New Englanders may point to the blizzard of 1978 as more severe in their region, while the blizzard of 1996 was more severe in the mid-Atlantic states; however, for sheer size, volume, and destructiveness, the 1993 snowstorm was truly the Storm of the Century in North America.”
16. The story behind Pangea “all Earth”.
17. Perhaps one of the best answers to climate-change denialists. Prothero takes his gloves off and it’s a work of beauty. “The most famous of these was conducted by Naomi Oreskes in 2004, which looked at all papers published on the topic in the world’s leading scientific journal, Science, between 1993 and 2003. Of the hundreds of papers written by the world’s top scientists, 980 supported global warming and none opposed it.”
18. A look at mass extinctions.
19. Putting natural disasters in perspective. “Even AIDS, which is a relatively young epidemic (spreading only since the 1980s), has killed more than 25 million people worldwide, far more than any natural disaster.”
20. Excellent bibliography.
1. Links provided are limited to figures and chapters. Notes are not provided.
2. Not necessarily a catastrophe unless you are involved but sinkholes are becoming a hot-button topic of late.
3. Never hurts to go over the scientific method and in this case from a geologist and or paleontologist perspective. It could be added in an appendix to avoid disrupting the flow of the book.
In summary, a fun and enlightening book on natural disasters. Prothero produces high-quality books for the masses to enjoy and this one doesn’t disappoint. This book is a good mix of historical anecdotes and sound science. If you are looking for a fun book to read this summer and that will always be topical, this is it. I highly recommend it!
Further recommendations: “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters” by the same author, “The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David R. Montgomery, “The Bible Unearthed” by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, “Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails) by Matt Young, and “The Making of the Fittest” by Sean B. Carroll.
Dr. Donald Prothero has written a superb account of the different kinds of natural disasters that occur, with examples both of how devastating these forces can be, but at the same time of how we need not necessarily be terrified of events that may be fairly low risk. It's written at the perfect level for people that are curious about the topic, but haven't studied or been trained in the subjects to an advanced degree.
As a geologist and paleontologist with decades of research and teaching experience, Prothero provides detailed explanations of the geologic forces responsible for these events, as well as realistic appraisals of the relative risk of each. One aspect I took note of is the need to educate yourself and become more informed, and therefore be able to make better decisions.
There are many misconceptions that Prothero is quick to clear up, which probably lead to the fears some are held in:
- California isn't going to fall into the Pacific Ocean. It's actually moving (slowly) towards Alaska.
- Tidal waves and tsunamis are not the same thing. Tsunami means "harbour wave" and is not related to tides at all.
- The safest spot to stand during a tornado is not the corner of a house, nor under an overpass.
It's also demonstrated that events that strike terror into most people are nowhere near as deadly as other lesser known risks. Earthquakes invoke the most primal fears, yet the statistics show that heatwaves and blizzards are something to be far more alarmed by (as someone who lives in Australia that now experiences record heatwaves every Summer, this is very relevant).
If you are like me and interested in this subject, but lack the advanced education or training in Earth sciences, this book is an excellent introduction with plentiful references to explore further.
I could not recommend it highly enough for anyone with an interest in natural history.
The first 9 chapters are interesting history, but the rest of the book is political opinion.