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Surviving Galeras Hardcover – April 17, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (April 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618031685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618031689
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #894,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As the wife of Professor Geoff Brown, killed in the Galeras eruption of 1993, and a geologist myself, I have been delighted by Stan Williams's and Fen Montaigne's account in Surviving Galeras.
It is a sensitive and honest account of an unpredictable tragedy, exploring not only the event itself, but the backgrounds and characters of the volcanologists who risk their lives to help minimise the risks to others of natural disasters. Anyone with a background in the Earth Sciences who has read the scientific literature about Galeras volcano will appreciate just how unexpected the eruption was and why those who died in it were taken by surprise.
Although Galeras is the major character in the volcanic drama, other eruptions, e.g. that of Mount St. Helens,Mont Pelee and Vesuvius, are explored as well. There is a good mixture of accessible science, human interest and historical context with various themes carefully interwoven. The horror of being caught in an eruption is painted vividly but the temptation to dramatize events has been avoided.
Congratulations are due to the authors for raising awareness of natural disasters, and the risks that must be taken by those who seek to understand them for the benfit of society.
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Format: Hardcover
This book, along with Victoria Bruce's account of the disaster at Galeras are a must read for anyone interested in Earth science or psychology. Williams appears to be a rogue volcanologist with a cavalier attitude about the dangers of working inside an active volcano. The simple fact is that Williams apparently did have some warning that Galeras was not 'sleeping' the day he led the conference into the crater and he did not insist on safety precautions. As leader of the expedition, Williams could easily have demanded that everyone wear safety gear or they would not be allowed inside. Apparently, Williams thinks anyone who is interested in safety is somewhat of a wimp. While hard hats, gas masks and flame retardent suits would not have saved everyone, no doubt a few of the nine might have also lived. The post-disaster story is almost as intriguing as the events leading to the disaster Williams appears as a glory seeker 'cashing in' on his compatriots ill-fortune. That is perhaps over-emphasized in Bruce's account. Williams himself suffered a serious head injury that apparently left him with some behavioral problems and difficulty in living a normal life. Nevertheless, he was made aware of how he was portraying the incident and has done little to correct those errors of fact publicly. I highly reccomend you read both accounts. Williams ego comes through strongly in both accounts of the story and yet this book paints a somewhat different picture of the post-tragedy fallout.
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By A Customer on September 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately, most of this book is built on nothing but Stanley Williams' ego. After parading around the media for years bragging about how he had been the only survivor of a scientific expedition on Galeras, Williams continues the lie by writing a book about the explosion but conveniently forgets about the other 5 scientists who got out alive. A more compelling and truthful account about Galeras is the book by Victoria Bruce called "No Apparent Danger". Bruce took the time to interview the dozens of people involved with the Galeras tragedy and so her book is much more broad-based than the single-handed novel written by Williams.
2 Comments 35 of 45 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
While writing a children's book (Wild Earth: Volcano!), I interviewed two volcanologists: Stan Williams and John Ewert, a USGS scientist who was at Pinatubo in 1991.
Mt. Pinatubo, in the Philippines, was the second-greatest eruption of the 20th century. After planting equipment on the rumbling volcano, scientists bunkered down at Clark Air Force Base. They were nearly certain the volcano would blow. They also knew, from geologic evidence, that Pinatubo was powerful enough to bury the base.
Even so, the scientists could not predict the exact moment and size of the explosion. In fact, there were lots of explosions. A big explosion a few days before the really big one spewed ash and rock for miles. When the big blast did happen, the scientists hightailed it out of the base through fallout: a black rain of acidic ash and volcanic rocks. John Ewert told me that, in hindsight, they probably should not have stayed so long.
The point is that those scientists could have been injured or killed at several points in time--by a mini-explosion of rocks as they were setting up equipment, by a collapsed roof at Clark Air Base, by fallout as they zoomed away in their jeeps. They weren't reckless. They were cautious. Yet they still could have died. Studying active volcanoes up close is a very dangerous job.
Two years after Pintatubo, in 1993, six scientists and three tourists did die on Galeras volcano in South America. They were assaulted by a "hiccup" on the volcanic scale--a relatively small explosion in which a volcano clears its throat, spitting up hot rocks the size of TV sets. To tiny, ant-like humans on a huge mountain, any explosion, no matter how small, can be deadly.
The exact time of such explosions isn't 100 percent predictable.
Read more ›
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