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Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters Hardcover – March 16, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0801896927 ISBN-10: 9780801896927 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (March 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780801896927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801896927
  • ASIN: 0801896924
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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,

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.

More About the Author

Donald R. Prothero has taught geology for over 33 years as Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and currently at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982, and a B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 33 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and three trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for Geology, Paleobiology and Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has served as the Vice President of the Pacific Section of SEPM (Society of Sedimentary Geology), and five years as the Program Chair for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 18 customer reviews
Even with many geology courses under my belt, I learned a lot and would recommend this book highly.
Jason Loxton
His ability to make complex scientific topics understandable to those who are not scientists is what makes this book so enjoyable to read.
M. Madan
Prothero is at his best in recounting natural catastrophes like the Vesuvius eruption, Lisbon and San Francisco earthquakes.
John Kwok

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Since the dawn of human history, catastrophes like earthquakes, 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! Earthquakes, 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 unique perspective comes just weeks after the horrific Sendai, Japan earthquake 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 equations, but even more 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 earthquake, and yet, discussions worth noting by readers interested in potential lapses in public policy with respect to dealing with the potential for such disasters.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jason Loxton on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Catastrophes! may best be thought of as two books (and could have benefited from an internal division into books I and II). The first eight chapters focus on natural disasters, with chapters 1-8 devoted sequentially to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, landslides, floods, hurricanes and other storms, tornados, and blizzards. After this section--which comprises two-thirds of the text--Prothero switches tack, delving into planet-level geological events (ice ages, mass extinctions, and global warming) that, with the exception of a subsection on anthropogenic climate change, operate on a very different scale and timeline than the phenomena of the first section of the book. The final chapter of the book provides a ranking of disasters, and places them in a context of destructiveness alongside more mundane (but also more deadly) phenomena such as disease, accidents, and over-population.

(I personally would have liked to see chapters on heat waves and droughts, sink holes, and lake outgassing, but I suppose that these needed to be cut for space.)

Prothero's writing is lucid and straightforward, and he does a good job of clearly explaining relevant concepts in the brief space available. Each of the first eight chapters begins by examining some of the most destructive recent examples of each kind of disaster, e.g., the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and Hurricane Katrina, with numerous first-hand quotations from witnesses making the accounts all the more vivid. Prothero then moves on to prehistoric super-examples of these events (often operating at a nearly unimaginable scale!), before concluding with an overview of the science (in many cases going beyond explanations of *how* they work, to discussing how we figured it out, as well as modern attempts at prediction and prevention).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book chronicles some of the greatest natural disasters in human history and the mechanics that make them so deadly. With a clear, straight forward style, Prothero recounts the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the 2004 Indian Tsunami, The Great Scablands Floods and many other such catastrophes that continue to remind us of just how fragile life is and how delicate our situation here on Earth is. That's the great part of this book; it's not just a shock & awe coffee table book with lots of pictures and scary captions. It's a book that weaves history and science together with a message of humility before Nature. Best of all, the last three chapters of the book focus on the ongoing crises of global warming and overpopulation. Prothero takes no prisoners his firm criticism of the current disinformation campaign the certain special interest group's are promoting to keep the public ignorant of such grave threats to our livelihood. Naturally, some people have been put off by this seeming "side-track" into politics. However, there is no greater place to discuss the evidence for such threats than in a book like this one. This isn't just a book about the awesome and frightening power of Nature, it's also a call for action and awareness of our place and impact on the rest of planet around us.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brian Switek on April 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When I visited Yellowstone two summers ago, the immense "supervolcano" percolating under the national park was a near-constant topic of conversation at the nightly campfire lectures. A 2005 BBC/Discovery drama was the reason why. Inspired by the real existence of the Yellowstone Caldera - which shaped the region through numerous eruptions over the past 17 million years - the sensational disaster yarn imagined what might happen if the huge volcano erupted today, highlighting the fact that the park's various geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots are signs of continuing volcanic activity.

The last major eruption of the Yellowstone volcano was about 640,000 years ago. There is no indication that it is set to go off again anytime soon, but the possibility clearly captured the public's imagination. Such an expression of natural force would be simultaneously captivating and terrifying, just as earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, landslides, floods, tsunamis and other phenomena are when they strike. These disasters are at the heart of Donald Prothero's new book Catastrophes!.

As the book's epigraph by Will Durant states, "Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice." Who better, then, to guide readers through the details of destructive forces of nature than a geologist? "I've been teaching about these events in my introductory physical geology courses for more than 25 years now," Prothero writes in the preface, and the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that struck on December 26, 2004 provided the impetus to take the lessons to a wider audience.

Catastrophes! is divided into two unequal parts.
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