From Publishers Weekly
The eruption of Mount Pele on the Caribbean island of Martinique in the spring of 1902 destroyed the entire French West Indies city of St. Pierre. A hundred years later, natural disaster buff Zebrowksi (Perils of a Restless Planet) has pulled together enough records to create a subtle though gripping account that combines powerful human drama (and tragedy) with a well-documented report of catastrophe in paradise. His account dwells on how easily the French bureaucratic order buckled like Walter Lord's A Night To Remember cast on an island fixed in a sea of cataclysms over the Atlantic Tectonic Plate. And like the Titanic disaster, this one came at just the moment when science (early seismometers were in place on the island) and undersea cable communications seemed capable of defending cities against forces of nature. Both St. Vincent's and Martinique suffered major volcanic eruptions in succession in April and May, but Zebrowski's premise that the colonial infrastructure of St. Pierre could have got many of the 30,000 who died out of the second volcano's way is somehow swept away by his own storytelling powers (his re-creation of the island governor's last cabinet meeting, for example). He is nearly as good as McPhee (Annals of the Former World) at making the earth move under the reader, and schadenfreude fans and historical disaster buffs will enjoy this one while perhaps in Paris some bureaucrat may yet be called to account. Illus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
On May 8, 1902, Mont Pelee on the island of Martinique exploded. A vast cloud of superheated steam, ash, rocks, and debris descended on the port city of St. Pierre. In three or four minutes the entire population of the city, including many refugees from the surrounding countryside, died. The disaster attracted worldwide attention because it occurred in a prosperous French colony and was swiftly reported via telegraph. Numerous contemporary accounts, many ludicrously off the mark, attempted to describe the causes and effects of the eruption, but only with advances in volcanology over the last century have the real reasons for the explosion been largely explained. Mont Pelee was the first example of a pyroclastic surge to be examined by modern science, and observations there greatly assisted geologists in understanding volcanoes. Zebrowski (A History of the Circle) examines both the geologic situation and the social and political conditions that led the French authorities to concentrate as many people as possible in the path of certain death. This readable and entertaining popular history is well documented from French records, survivors' accounts, journalists, and scientific investigations. Highly recommended for public libraries and Caribbean collections. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.