On January 14, 1993, Stanley Williams led a party of fellow geologists up Galeras, a Colombian volcano that, though historically active, had been lying quiet long enough that they suspected it was due for an episode--and thus an opportunity for the volcanologists to practice their predicting skills. As they reached the lip of its great crater, Galeras obliged them with a vengeance: it erupted in a burst of fire and toxic gas, killing several members of the party and leaving Williams scorched and broken, "sprawled on my side, caked in ash and blood, wet from the rain, bones protruding from my burned clothes, my jaw hanging slackly."
Rescued by two colleagues, Marta Velasco and Patty Mothes, Williams faced several challenges in the years to come--not only healing his body and exorcising the ghosts of Galeras, but also contending with other colleagues' whispered charges that he should have known the mountain was about to blow. But death, Williams and collaborator Fen Montaigne (Reeling in Russia) write, comes with the territory. Whenever a volcano has erupted in recent years, it seems, a volcanologist is among its victims, for, Williams notes, "the best way to understand a volcano is still, in my opinion, to climb it," and to climb it in all of its moods. And those moods, Williams and Montaigne add, are not easy to forecast, even if earth scientists have developed ever more accurate ways to predict events such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
At once a study in mountains, the history of geology, and the will to endure, Surviving Galeras is often terrifying, and altogether memorable. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Williams, a geology professor at Arizona State University, headed the team on the cone of Colombia's Galeras volcano when it erupted in 1993. Nine people were killed. Severely injured, Williams gained celebrity before he left the hospital, and his roles as expedition leader and media personality generated significant controversy. Williams sustained enough brain damage, he asserts, that he initially believed himself to be the sole survivor, which he promptly told reporters. Actually, several scientists survived, and Williams here acknowledges his slight. Though he insists either because of his injuries or for more nefarious reasons that the others are mistaken about critical elements to the story, his account appears flawed. He alleges that his personal conflict with seismologist Chouet (in 1991, with Williams present, Chouet introduced a method of predicting eruptions) kept him ignorant of Galeras's danger. In fact, Williams submitted a grant proposal to research prediction of eruptions just one month after Chouet's presentation. As to his claim that he merely let reporters state that he alone survived, readers only have to watch the February 12, 1993, broadcast of NBC's Nightly News to hear Williams himself make this pronouncement. The volcanic histories seem a vain attempt to substantiate a porous memoir. Though artfully written (with Montaigne, author of Reeling in Russia), this antagonistic telling so contradicts other survivors' accounts as to seem ludicrous. Illus. not seen by PW. (Apr. 17)Forecast: With a $150,000 marketing campaign, 15-city author tour and a generous floor display, Houghton Mifflin is taking a gamble on a book whose sales will most likely be cut into by its competitor, No Apparent Danger.
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