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From epidemics and earthquakes to tornados and tidal waves, the overwhelming power of nature never ceases to instill humankind with both terror and awe. As natural disasters continue to claim human lives and leave destruction in their wake, Perils of a Restless Planet examines our attempts to understand and anticipate such phenomena. Now available in paperback, this highly acclaimed book draws on actual events from ancient to present times. Coverage focuses on basic scientific inquiry, technological innovation and, ultimately, public policy to provide a lucid and riveting look at the natural events that have shaped our view of natural disasters. While shedding light on the elusive quality of nature's intermittent tantrums and the limits scientific study and laboratory replication impose on our understanding of its mercurial ways, the author extrapolates from the history of science to suggest how we may someday learn to warn and protect the vulnerable populations on our small, tempestuous planet. Compelling and informative, this book will find readers both in and outside of the scientific community.
All of the great natural catastrophes are visited here—earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, and firestorms—from Thera to Kobe, with stops at Lisbon, Messina, Galveston, San Francisco, Alaska, and other notable venues. Yet this isn't just a litany of the most godawful cataclysms, for Zebrowski is interested in the whys and wherefores behind such events, curious to make sense of their seeming randomness, anxious to gain a step toward predictability. To this end he plumbs atmospheric dynamics, wave physics, plate tectonics, plague vectors; explores the history of science (highlighting the work of Pythagoras, Galileo, and Newton); and argues for the support of arcane scientific projects, as he is a believer in the crucial need for all kinds of research, as well as in the creative leap of faith and inductive reasoning. Interesting as all this is—pleasingly accessible via Zebrowski's unhurried, skeptical, clear style—it is nature's fury that makes this book vibrate: a phosphorescent tsunami that lifts the man-of-war USS Wateree and delivers it into the Atacama Desert, two miles from its anchorage off the coast of southern Peru; the strange and silent lakes of Cameroon that on two occasions in the 1980s displaced the atmospheric oxygen and suffocated all those nearby; the witnessing by five British monks in 1178 of the results of a huge asteroid colliding with the moon. Zebrowski's infectious relish makes it hard not to look forward to the next plague—of, say, black widows—as he might tell it.
Mother Nature raves on, unpredicatbly and unsparingly. Zebrowski loves her still, though, like any vexed and fascinated scientist, he sure would like to know what sends her off her rocker.
Preface; 1. Life on the Earth's crust; 2. The evolution of science; 3. Hazards of shelter; 4. Death and life; 5. Restless seas; 6. Earth in upheaval; 7. Volcanoes and asteroid impacts; 8. Deadly winds; 9. Science and irreproducible phenomena; Appendices; Index.