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The title promises tales of violent disasters, but in fact British oceanographer Chester draws readers into a detailed history of geology and the science of plate tectonics. He briefly reviews premodern explanations of natural disasters as acts of God or the gods. Modern geology grew from three tenets: the earth was very old; it had changed a great deal since its formation; and the changes were natural, not divinely produced. By the late 19th century, fossil and geological evidence showed that the continents had once been joined-but explaining the dynamics of continental movement would require mapping the ocean floor, measuring changes in the earth's magnetic field and diving deep underwater where sulfur-rich hydrothermal vents fed strange and alien life forms. Sidebars highlight infamous natural disasters throughout recorded history, ending with the 2004 Asian tsunami. As in a textbook, there is clear and concise explanation, each chapter concluding with a review. Chester ends with a look at how understanding plate tectonics has made it possible to monitor for early signs of a natural disaster. 8 b&w photos, 18 illus. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.