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Catastrophes PDevastating natural disasters have profoundly shaped human history leaving us with a respect for the mighty power of the earthmdash;and a humbling view of our future Paleontologist and geologist Donald R Prothero tells the harrowing human stories behind these catastrophic eventsPProthero describes in gripping detail some of the most important natural disasters in history#58;PAcirc;bull; the New Madrid Missouri earthuakes of 1811ndash;1812 that caused church bells to ring in BostonAcirc;bull; the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed than 230000 peopleAcirc;bull; the massive volcanic eruptions of Krakatau Mount Tambora Mount Vesuvius Mount St Helens and Nevado del RuizPHis clear and straightforward explanations of the forces that caused these disasters accompany gut wrenching accounts of terrifying human experiences and a staggering loss of human life PFloods that wash out whole regions earthuakes that level a single country hurricanes that destroy everything in their pathmdash;all are here to remind us of how little control we have over the natural world Dramatic photographs and eyewitness accounts recall the devastation wrought by these events and the peoplemdash;both heroes and foolsmdash;that are caught up in the earth's relentless forces PEerie fascinating and often moving these tales of geologic history and human fortitude and folly will stay with you long after you put the book down Don Prothero is a science hero of mine and he is a genuinely nice guy with a lovely family I suppose since I have heard Don speak on a number of these issues there was not too much for me to learn in this his latest book If you never read Prothero I suggest you begin with him most informative and sweeping and dynamic work Evolution Since the dawn of human history catastrophes like earthuakes volcanic eruptions and blizzards have been seen by many as the capricious acts of a wrathful Deity bent on punishing humanity Even today most might ascribe such disasters as the work of Divine Providence run amok instead of belonging to an ongoing series of naturally occurring geological and meteorological events Catastrophes Earthuakes Tsunamis Tornadoes and other Earth Shattering Disasters is a revealing often insightful look at these events as seen from the eyes of distinguished vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero and one whose uniue perspective comes just weeks after the horrific Sendai Japan earthuake and tsunami Prothero discusses not only the natural history of these disasters but all too often cites how governments and people have often ignored at great peril to themselves credible warnings by scientists regarding the potential dangers posed by such disasters Indeed this isn't only true in classic examples as government and public responses to imminent volcanic eruptions and euations but even relatively mundane disasters such as landslides which Prothero discusses at length even when such discussions may be far less riveting than his accounts of the A D 79 eruption of the volcano Vesuvius which wiped out the Roman towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii or the great 1906 San Francisco earthuake and yet discussions worth noting by readers interested in potential lapses in public policy with respect to dealing with the potential for such disasters Catastrophes can be seen as a book organized loosely in three sections; with the first five chapters devoted respectively to earthuakes tsunamis volcanoes landslides and floods; a much longer section devoted to meteorological disasters ranging from hurricanes to blizzards that segues into extensive discussions of ice ages and mass extinctions Prothero is at his best in recounting natural catastrophes like the Vesuvius eruption Lisbon and San Francisco earthuakes Such accounts are truly mesmerizing drawn upon eyewitness accounts and greatly informed by his relevant knowledge of the geological sciences His writing tends to be a bit less engrossing when he discusses for example Landslides Chapter 4 especially with regards to devastating landslides in and around his native Southern California many of which he implies could have been prevented had local governments and people heeded ample signs of prior landslides afflicting these Southern Californian hills Among the best discussions in Catastrophes are Prothero's extensive accounts of ice ages and mass extinctions His chapter on ice ages could serve as an excellent introduction to them in a basic geology course aimed for general audiences A close second is his chapter on mass extinctions especially with regards to his excellent if rather terse discussion of current biodiversity losses in what many now regard as the Sixth great mass extinction in the Phanerozoic Eon which recently in Nature a team led by Prothero's Berkeley California colleague Anthony Barnovsky has shown that ongoing extinction rates for plants and animals are nearly as high as those for the two worst mass extinctions in the last three hundred million years; the terminal Permian mass extinction event that wiped out nearly 90% of Earth's biodiversity and the terminal Cretaceous mass extinction event that wiped out the nonavian dinosaurs all of the great marine and flying reptiles and notable marine invertebrates like ammonites distant relatives of the extant octopus and suid However Prothero devotes too much of this chapter to debunking asteroid impacts as a primary cause of mass extinctions including the terminal Cretaceous event especially when there is indeed compelling evidence that points to its extraterrestrial origin in the form of a substantial submerged crater at Chicxulub Yucatan Mexico Instead he cites uestionable studies by Princeton micropaleontologist Gerta Keller which contend that the terminal Cretaceous mass extinction of planktic foraminifera amoeba which possesses calcium carbonate skeletons was a gradual drawn out process comprised of stepped extinctions not a sudden catastrophic mass extinction as other studies have demonstrated convincingly Keller is the sole notable opponent and held onto her opposition despite a substantial scientific literature that exists in support of a sudden catastrophic collapse of planktic foraminiferal biodiversity Without a doubt Prothero has offered a relatively concise overview of natural disasters in Catastrophes; one that should garner ample interest especially by those interested in public policy implications in the wake of both the Sendai Japan earthuake and tsunami and ongoing meteorological disasters like the current series of deadly tornadoes in the Midwestern United States Lest one worries that volcanic eruptions and earthuakes are far dangerous and deadly than tornadoes Prothero acknowledges in his concluding chapter that there are far fatalities due to meteorological disasters than those resulting from these geological events associated with plate tectonics For these reasons alone this book is a noteworthy contribution to our understanding of the natural history of natural disasters Catastrophes Earthuakes Tsunamis Tornadoes and Other Earth Shattering Disasters By Donald R Prothero “Catastrophes is a first rate look at natural disasters from a 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 Earthuakes 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? Positives1 Well written accessible page turner of a science book Mixes in historical narratives with science fun and enlightening2 A fascinating topic in the hands of a subject matter expert With a PhD in geological sciences and authorship of many books and scientific papers Prothero has earned my trust as a high uality science writer3 Great use of visual materials Plenty of charts and photos4 A solid introductory history to modern geology 5 Goes through the birth of modern seismology while narrating historical earthuakes6 Throughout the book myths are debunked “Many people believe in the myth of earthuake weather Supposedly great earthuakes happen during unusually hot days In reality there is no correlation between the occurrence of earthuakes 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 earthuake The energy released by the uake was about 550 million times 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 why10 The underrated catastrophe of landslides “A Richter magnitude 8 earthuake 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 history14 Debunking popular tornado myths 15 Inside the “Storm of the Century” 1993 “The storm caused about 66 billion in damage making it one of the most costly blizzards in American history New Englanders may point to the blizzard of 1978 as severe in their region while the blizzard of 1996 was 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 extinctions19 Putting natural disasters in perspective “Even AIDS which is a relatively young epidemic spreading only since the 1980s has killed than 25 million people worldwide far than any natural disaster”20 Excellent bibliography Negatives1 Links provided are limited to figures and chapters Notes are not provided2 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 uality 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 Not a bad account of various disasters though obviously written very fast and without checking the facts too thoroughly the Pompeian episode which I know better than others as well as the Lisbon one have some obvious mistakes mostly in numbers Otherwise useful though at an early point it goes in the direction which is of less interest to me climate change dinosaurs etc

  • Hardcover
  • 307 pages
  • Catastrophes
  • Donald R. Prothero
  • English
  • 12 August 2015
  • 9781421401478

About the Author: Donald R. Prothero

Donald R Prothero is a Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology He teaches Physical and Historical Geology Sedimentary Geology and Paleontology His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 an

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