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Volcanoes and human history:

Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions.

par Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, Donald Theodore Sanders, Robert D. Ballard

Princeton University Press (January 1, 2001)

Hardcover (272 pages)

In 1815, Napoleon's armies fell to defeat at Waterloo, a clash that would change the course of world events. Far more Europeans died that year, though, as a result of a volcanic explosion in Indonesia--one cataclysmic eruption among the many that figure in this sidelong view of the Earth's history. The explosion of Tambora in April 1815, geologists de Boer and Sanders write, sent a plume of volcanic ash high into the planet's atmosphere, bringing on a "nuclear winter" that devastated crops in the northern hemisphere, yielding famine and plague. Moreover, they add, the explosion cast a hazy pall over much of Europe, a gloom that inspired Mary Shelley to write her famed novel, Frankenstein. Another explosion, more than 3,000 years earlier, pulverized the Mediterranean island of Thera, giving rise to the legend of Atlantis and causing whole civilizations to collapse. Still another eruption on the island of Tristan da Cunha, in 1961, "brought [the 20th century] to this most isolated of the earth's inhabited places." The authors' overview of nature's ability to thwart human intentions makes for fascinating reading, sure to appeal to fans of Perils of a Restless Planet, Surviving Galeras, and other chronicles of the trembling earth.  

Melting the Earth : The History of Ideas on Volcanic Eruptions

par Haraldur Sigurdsson

Oxford University Press (December 14, 2005)

Hardcover (272 pages)

What is a volcano? Why do some have slow-flowing lava and some explode with fire and rocks? How are volcanoes and earthquakes related? Sigurdsson (oceanography, Univ. of Rhode Island) looks at these questions and more from various points of view: prehistoric legend, religion, superstition, and science from the 17th century to date. He has done his research well. Some of the theories he relates appear foolish in hindsight, but most of them were taken quite seriously in their time. His subtitle is apt, as each chapter adds to the evolution of scientific thought in this area of geology. He shows the importance of other disciplines, including chemistry, physics, and thermodynamics, in understanding how the study of volcanoes has changed over time. He also notes how points of view shift with field research and experimentation. In the end, we are left with more questions, which is one of the excitements of science. For larger public libraries and academic collections supporting the earth sciences.  

Eruptions that Shook the World

par Clive Oppenheimer

Cambridge University Press (2011)

Paperback (406 pages)

What does it take for a volcanic eruption to really shake the world? Did volcanic eruptions extinguish the dinosaurs, or help humans to evolve, only to decimate their populations with a super-eruption 73,000 years ago? Did they contribute to the ebb and flow of ancient empires, the French Revolution and the rise of fascism in Europe in the 19th century? These are some of the claims made for volcanic cataclysm. Volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer explores rich geological, historical, archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records (such as ice cores and tree rings) to tell the stories behind some of the greatest volcanic events of the past quarter of a billion years. He shows how a forensic approach to volcanology reveals the richness and complexity behind cause and effect, and argues that important lessons for future catastrophe risk management can be drawn from understanding events that took place even at the dawn of human origins.  

Krakatoa : The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

par Simon Winchester, C. Grant and Company

Harper Perennial (March 1, 2004)

Paperback (432 pages)

Simon Winchester tells the frightening tale of the biggest volcanic eruption in history using a blend of gentle geology and narrative history. Krakatoa erupted at a time when technologies like the telegraph were becoming commonplace and Asian trade routes were being expanded by northern European companies. This bustling colonial backdrop provides an effective canvas for the suspense leading up to August 27th, 1883, when the nearby island of Krakatoa would violently vaporize. Winchester describes the eruption through the eyes of its survivors, and readers will be as horrified and mesmerized as eyewitnesses were as the death toll reached nearly 40,000 (almost all of whom died from tsunamis generated by the unimaginably strong shock waves of the eruption). Ships were thrown miles inshore, endless rains of hot ash engulfed those towns not drowned by 100 foot waves, and vast rafts of pumice clogged the hot sea. The explosion was heard thousands of miles away, and the eruption's shock wave traveled around the world seven times. But the book's biggest surprise is not the riveting catalog of the volcano's effects; rather, it is Winchester's contention that the Dutch abandonment of their Indonesian colonies after the disaster left local survivors to seek comfort in radical Islam, setting the stage for a volatile future for the region.  

Earthquakes and human history:

Earthquakes in Human History : The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions

par Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, Donald Theodore Sanders

Princeton University Press (December 6, 2004)

Hardcover (264 pages)

Earthquakes in Human History moves through the centuries and across the continents to show how earthquakes have shaped different societies. With a cast of characters that includes God and his ever-feared wrath, Cleopatra, Voltaire, Mark Twain, and the Sandinistas, it is an engaging and at times thrilling tale. I am confident that it will accomplish the authors' goal of nudging scientists to recognize the social and cultural impact of the geosciences and encouraging historians and others to explore scientific explanations for natural disasters. Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders have provided us with evidence that natural phenomena, in this case earthquakes, can sometimes have long-term historical consequences in changing the fate of cultures. With examples ranging from biblical to modern times, they show how destructive earthquakes have interacted with wars, religious beliefs, and political movements in changing history. Each account is preceded by a generally accessible account of the geological processes that led to the fateful earthquake. A fascinating read and an antidote to the usual anthropocentric views of history such as that of Arnold Toynbee.  

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