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

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer , Donald Theodore Sanders
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 22, 2007 0691127867 978-0691127866

On November 1, 1755--All Saints' Day--a massive earthquake struck Europe's Iberian Peninsula and destroyed the city of Lisbon. Churches collapsed upon thousands of worshippers celebrating the holy day. Earthquakes in Human History tells the story of that calamity and other epic earthquakes. The authors, Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders, recapture the power of their previous book, Volcanoes in Human History. They vividly explain the geological processes responsible for earthquakes, and they describe how these events have had long-lasting aftereffects on human societies and cultures. Their accounts are enlivened with quotations from contemporary literature and from later reports.

In the chaos following the Lisbon quake, government and church leaders vied for control. The Marquês de Pombal rose to power and became a virtual dictator. As a result, the Roman Catholic Jesuit Order lost much of its influence in Portugal. Voltaire wrote his satirical work Candide to refute the philosophy of "optimism," the belief that God had created a perfect world. And the 1755 earthquake sparked the search for a scientific understanding of natural disasters.

Ranging from an examination of temblors mentioned in the Bible, to a richly detailed account of the 1906 catastrophe in San Francisco, to Japan's Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, to the Peruvian earthquake in 1970 (the Western Hemisphere's greatest natural disaster), this book is an unequaled testament to a natural phenomenon that can be not only terrifying but also threatening to humankind's fragile existence, always at risk because of destructive powers beyond our control.

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Earthquakes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions + Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions + Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Weekend scholars and disaster fans will find the physical and the social sciences blend interestingly, if sometimes a bit awkwardly, in this study of earthquakes across the centuries. As in their previous book, Volcanoes in Human History, coauthors de Boer and Sanders consider the repercussions of natural disasters on everything from literature and religion to politics and science. Early chapters consider biblical references to a quaking earth ("the coincidence of [Joshua's] easy passage across the Jordan and the easy conquest of Jericho suggests the aftermath of a major earthquake") and show how 14th- and 18th-century earthquakes in England and Portugal were taken as signs from God (encouraged by fiery preacher John Wesley, Londoners who had suffered through several small quakes in 1750 saw Portugal's disastrous 1755 quake as yet another warning of God's displeasure with sinners). A discussion of the New Madrid, Mo., quake of 1811 notes that while it was one of the strongest ever recorded in North America (it was followed by 1,874 aftershocks), it remains relatively unknown because the region was little populated. Modern-era quakes in San Francisco (1906), Kanto, Japan (1923), Peru (1970) and Nicaragua (1972) round out the book; the links between seismic aftermath and revolutionary ferment in the latter two countries nicely pinpoint the significant interplay between planetary and sociopolitical upheaval. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005

"A splendid geographical and cultural survey of how, over the centuries, the unquiet Earth has altered our sense of nature and ourselves."--Russell Seitz, Wall Street Journal

"The effects of tremors lasting only minutes often dwarf those of almost all other natural disasters, leaving scars on the landscape and the population that can last for centuries. Geologist Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and science writer Donald Theodore Sanders drive that point home with well-chosen evidence from notable seismic upheavals of the past. . . . [T]he best parts of the book are the stories, big and small, of people and institutions affected by the great seismic disruptions."--Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

"The authors provide little-known facts and insights on geologic processes and the effects of these natural disasters on the course of human history. . . . Because earthquakes are an expression of a living and evolving planet Earth, knowledge of their influence on a living and evolving human population is essential. This book goes a long way toward erasing that knowledge deficit."--Choice

"A terrifying but excellent study of human history in relation to earthquakes, the tsunamis earthquakes can cause, and the consuming fires that often follow and take the greatest tolls. . . . [A] great read: The authors weave in high-profile literature, heavy doses of exciting political history and some baseline geology for understanding, plus a bunch of tidbits that are not standard fare even for the most geology-centric reader."--Victoria Bruce, The Globe and Mail

"Jelle Zelinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders relate fascinating historical accounts illustrating how earthquakes have repeatedly served as catalysts for significant, long-term changes in social, political, military, religious, economic, and other conditions. . . . A major strength of [their] writing is their talent for clearly and succinctly delivering complex scientific theory to the lay reader. . . . de Boer's and Sanders' work helps ensure that disaster risk receives the attention it most certainly warrants."--Shawn Fenn, Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

"The book is well written, in a clear crisp style, without unnecessary jargon. The geological aspects are admirably well informed and accurate. . . . This is an admirable book. It is easily the most scholarly and well-informed discussion of the broader historical contexts of these earthquakes that I have read, and the geological accounts of what happened are well explained."--James Jackson, Geological Magazine

"I recommend it to any geophysicist interested in the human impact of earthquakes, and indeed, as a result of reading it I am keen to search out previous work by the authors which studies the sociological effects of volcanic eruptions."--John Brittan, Leading Edge

"The book is written with a vivid and easily digested narrative style that helps the amateur reader to assimilate a bit of basic geological knowledge. . . . [T]he geology-centered reader will better understand the far-reaching effects of earthquakes for different aspects of the history of civilization."--Marek Lewandowski, Pure and Applied Geophysics

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691127867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691127866
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #683,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of Quakes July 29, 2005
I have a baccalaureate degree in geology with an emphasis in paleontology, and although I have never actually used the degree, I enjoy reading about various aspects of geology. Earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, all of which are interrelated phenomena, are particularly intriguing as they so often impact human society where ever they occur. Probably one of the most poetic and stirring artifacts of this very fact are the ancient footprints of two of what are believed by some to be our prehistoric ancestors, preserved in the ash of a volcanic eruption at Leotoli inTanzania, Africa.

De Boer and Sanders' book, Earthquakes in Human History goes a long way to pulling together the geology and sociology of various seismic events through recorded time. Without a doubt the frailty and vulnerability of the human being is graphically demonstrated in the face of these catastrophic events.

The authors begin by examining ancient literature for evidence of earthquakes and earthquake damage in human terms. They look to the authors of the Biblical narrative for evidence of seismic activity in the Levant, and it's effects on the course of history there. Although many of the stories they analyze are very likely to have seismic components irrespective of their ultimate cause, I think that some might well be attributable to volcanic explosions as well. Although not familiar with the geologic activity in the area beyond its part in the rifting activity in the Afar triangle in Africa, I believe that volcanoes are customarily associated with such rifts. Certainly they are in the mid-Atlantic system of which Iceland is a part and in the Rift Valley in Africa itself. Although the Levant/Dead Sea portion is considered a "failed" arm of the rifting system, it might still partake of volcanism.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History Lesson Extraordinaire January 16, 2006
This work was more than I expected. I learned as much about anscient history as I did about earthquakes! It is well written and focuses on specific earthquake events rather than over-generalizing on the broad topic. I only wish all the metric distances and measures would have had U.S. conversions in parentheses.

All in all, a worthwhile read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Earthquakes are not just natural events; they are messages to our civilizations. "Earthquakes in Human History" is a look at how these 'acts of God' have changed the affairs of mankind from biblical times to the twentieth century. Not just calamities, great earthquakes have also been agents of regime change, sometimes in surprising ways. We are lucky to have their stories told so well here; maybe our own civilization can do better the next time the ground shakes. On I rate this book with five stars, and maybe I'll look for the same authors' similar book on volcanoes.
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4.0 out of 5 stars RESTLESS EARTH AND CIVILIZATION June 11, 2012
Overall a fairly good job here. The first half looks at quakes in the Ancient world and gives us a brief introduction to the subject. The second half includes six of the world's most infamous tremblors, notably Lisbon, San Francisco, Tokyo and Peru (1970). The last chapter, on Nicaragua's 1972 shake up, is the least good. The author's state it is Latin America's second worst earthquake, but then tell us little about the disaster itself. Instead we are given a national history lesson. Either they didn't study up for that chapter, or it wasn't much of a calamity. Cities like Tokyo and Lisbon were truly destroyed by a combination of ground shaking, fire and tsunami.

It would have been better to include more earthquakes, and 'Atheen' is right that China should not have been overlooked. After all, some of the worst have happened there, and the Chinese have always been leaders in research and prediction. Other candidates are Iran, Turkey and Italy.

While I enjoyed this much more than their earlier book on volcanoes, many of the same criticisms apply. I feel the authors were unsure just what kind of book they intended to write. History or science?
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