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Megadisasters: The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe Hardcover – November 8, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (November 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691133506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691133508
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,686,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author and mathematics professor Diacu (Celestial Encounters: The Origins of Chaos and Stability) presents a civilian-friendly guide to methods, like numerical modeling, used to understand, quantify, and possibly predict disasters. Written simply but without being simplistic, Diacu's text is driven by enthusiasm for his field and its potential for solving some of humanity's big problems. In nine chapters, Diacu examines natural disasters-volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes and typhoons, tsunamis and floods-but also takes time to examine human-driven disasters: financial collapse, pandemic disease, and climate change. Diacu chronicles the history of each field of prediction clearly and concisely, illustrating how developments in mathematics drove developments in geology, and vice-versa, as well as the unpredictable variables as dictated by "the monkey in the machine," chaos theory. A chapter on climate change is particularly insightful and important. Few non-scientists understand how climate models work, but it would dispel a lot of skepticism if they did; Diacu manages it in just seven pages, in language anyone can understand.

From Booklist

The science behind predicting catastrophes involves differential equations, but math-phobics, have no fear. Mathemetician Diacu writes a whole book about applying them without a single string of numbers, letters, and bamboozling symbols. OK, maybe defining differential equation somewhere in passing would’ve been nice, but Diacu’s little histories of predicting eight varieties of disaster are pretty absorbing and informative, so we’ll live. At least, we hope so, and thanks to the development of mathematical models of how tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, rapid climate change, comet and asteroid collisions with the earth, pandemics, and financial crashes come about, we can be increasingly confident that we will. Two kinds of catastrophe are much less predictable than others: market crashes and earthquakes, because they are extremely chaotic and only now is the satellite-enabled Global Positioning System locating the junctions of tectonic plates with any precision. Easing into each chapter with a bit of personal history, Diacu warmly assures us in conclusion that scores of people are working to hone predictive mathematical tools ever sharper. --Ray Olson

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on May 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In a nearly perfect world, impending disasters could be predicted in such an accurate and timely manner that affected people could be safely evacuated and human lives would be saved. But we don't live in such a world and terrible disasters do occur, often unexpectedly and with dreadful consequences. In an effort to remedy this situation, scientists in different fields are attempting to understand the various phenomena that can lead to such disasters in order to try and predict their occurrences. In this book, eight types of disasters are examined: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, rapid climate change, cosmic impacts, financial crashes and pandemics. The author, an applied mathematician with specialization in differential equations, is certainly in his element in discussing most of these cases. Each disaster is covered in its own chapter. In each case, the author gives a brief historical background, presents the scientists who are involved and summarizes the progress, or lack thereof, that has been made. It becomes very clear that some disasters are more predictable than others. Also, the power and limitations of mathematical modelling are well illustrated. The writing style is clear, authoritative, level-headed, accessible and engaging. This book can be enjoyed by anyone, especially those interested in science's efforts in predicting disasters with the ultimate purpose of saving human lives.
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Format: Hardcover
The author, a professor of mathematics, provides a general review of scientific efforts to predict a variety of phenomena, including: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, climate change, asteroid and comet impacts with Earth, financial crashes, and pandemics. The author also briefly discusses the nature and limits of mathematical models.

The book is written for the general public, and the reader does not need to have any particular training or experience in mathematics or science to follow the author's discussion. The book provides a basic introduction to the subject matter for readers who are not trained or experienced in mathematics or science. Anyone interested in a more detailed, technical discussion of mathematical models and scientific predictions of various phenomena should look elsewhere.

One example of a more technical discussion of mathematical models and scientific predictions is Prediction: Science, Decision Making, and the Future of Nature (Island Press, 1990), an anthology edited by Daniel Sarewitz; Roger A. Pielke, Jr.; and Radford Byerly, Jr.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I can't give this fairly solid book a fourth star only because I expect a lot from the author; there could've been a little more than what shows up here in this book.

The author is very intelligent and open-minded about science (verging on a veritable 'philosophy of science' angle) and he's been brave enough to have written another of his books on Fomenko (with whom he shares some of the same upper-level physics and mathematics expertise - namely differential equations and their use in celestial mechanics and optimization problems). Brave because doing so risked career suicide. No one is allowed to touch Fomenko. Period. This being said, Diacu seems very aware about methodological and experimental honesty or dishonesty issues - as is clear in the chapter on climate change - and the quite flexible borders between science and pseudo-science on both sides of the coin: those holy theorems overdue for revision and working hypotheses unduly held in distain. This is a brave quality in Diacu. He's a brave writer. Brings to mind Poincare's attitude toward both positivists and dogmatic realists. So many "scientists" are merely conventionalists (unquestioning of the dominate paradigm) who wear the badge of scientist yet lack the necessary loyalty to the true open-mindedness which makes science "Science". It is with this sort of sobriety that he takes a position of authority to say what has been only prematurely labeled as science when it comes to prediction and what is, really and truly, more cutting edge in the science of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, climate change, meteor impact, economic breakdown, and pandemics.
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