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The Million Death Quake: The Science of Predicting Earth's Deadliest Natural Disaster (MacSci) [Hardcover]

by Roger Musson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 16, 2012 0230119417 978-0230119413

For centuries, Californians and the Japanese have known that they were at risk of catastrophic earthquakes, and prepared accordingly. But when a violent 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, hardly anyone knew the island nation was even at risk for disaster, and, tragically, no one was prepared. Over 300,000 people died as buildings that had never been designed to withstand such intense shaking toppled over and crushed their inhabitants. Now, scientists warn that it won't be long before a single, catastrophic quake kills one million people - and that it is going to strike right where we least expect it. In this groundbreaking book, renowned seismologist with the British Geological Survey Roger Musson takes us on an exhilarating journey to explore what scientists and engineers are doing to prepare us for the worst. With riveting tales of the scientists who first cracked the mystery of what causes the ground to violently shake, Musson makes plain the powerful geological forces driving earthquakes and tsunamis, and shows how amazing feats of engineering are making our cities earthquake-proof. Highlighting hotspots around the world from Mexico City to New York this is a compelling scientific adventure into nature at its fiercest.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In the annals of Earth’s natural history, the deadliest earthquake on record hit Shaanxi, China in 1556 and killed an estimated 830,000 people, whereas the death toll of the 2010 Haiti quake topped 316,000. Yet according to noted British seismologist Musson, near-future casualties could easily surpass a million if decisive safety measures aren’t taken, especially in populous urban areas along earthquake hot zones. Musson provides a lay-reader-friendly guide to seismology fundamentals, from early theories about earthquake origins to the workings of contemporary plate tectonics, before weighing the value of what he terms the “4 P’s”—prayer, prevention, prediction, protection. Alas, prayer is the least effective in mitigating harm as crushed Lisbon churchgoers belatedly discovered one Sunday in 1755. Similarly, prevention and prediction have proved unreliable, leaving only protective methods, such as architectural retrofitting and outright relocation. Musson demonstrates why his expertise is much in demand in the wake of each new quake by keeping readers absorbed with clear explanations and colorful anecdotes about one of nature’s most calamitous forces. --Carl Hays


"Compulsively readable."--Slate

“People with no background in Earth sciences can understand every word of it; its author is the head of seismic hazard for the British Geological Survey and writes with authority; and, above all, it could help save lives…earthquakes don't kill people – their offices, factories, tenements and houses do. There could hardly be a more serious take-home message.”—The Guardian

"A lay-reader-friendly guide to seismology fundamentals, from early theories about earthquake origins to the workings of contemporary plate tectonics...Musson demonstrates why his expertise is much in demand in the wake of each new quake by keeping readers absorbed with clear explanations and colorful anecdotes about one of nature’s most calamitous forces."--Booklist

“An authoritative and accessible investigation of one of nature’s most destructive forces.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Roger Musson has written a sobering assessment of the global hazards posed by earthquakes. He gives us an eloquent grounding in seismology based on science and history and confronts the questions of prediction and survival with balanced honesty. Buy a copy of this essential book and read it again and again."--Brian Fagan, author of Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind and The Little Ice Age

"Geophysicist Roger Musson provides an insider’s view of seismology, from riveting accounts of historic earthquakes to the sobering modern reality that as global population grows, future earthquakes could cause unprecedented devastation.  But he also argues that lives can be saved -- if we have the political will -- through investment in earthquake engineering and real-time digital warning systems.  Essential reading for policymakers, planners, builders, investors, and all citizens of this tectonically vigorous planet."--Marcia Bjørnerud, author of Reading the Rocks

"A solid look at a shaky topic that shows why the whole world is earthquake country when it comes to disaster prevention."— David R. Montgomery, author of The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood

"The Million Death Quake is an entertaining history of earthquakes, with both compelling stories of some of the deadliest disasters of all time and stories of how scientists very slowly came to understand what causes them.  The author provides very clear scientific explanations of earthquakes and of the reasons why we still cannot predict them.  Throughout the book Musson puts the entire subject in very human terms, emphasizing especially the important factor of population vulnerability.  Because we cannot predict earthquakes our only progress in reducing earthquake deaths has been through improved building construction.  But many densely populated cities lack such building improvements on a large enough scale, making possible the potential disaster that gives this book its title."--Bruce Parker, author of The Power of the Sea

"A crystal-clear primer on everything seismological...What makes earthquake disasters all the more harrowing is that in many cases the risks were known and heavy losses could have been avoided."--Clive Oppenheimer, author of Eruptions that Shook the World

Product Details

  • Series: MacSci
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230119417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230119413
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Overview of Seismology May 30, 2013
The author, a renowned seismologist, takes the reader on an amazing adventure into the world of earthquakes. The book is comprised of two parts. In the first, the author discusses earthquakes in general: what they are, what is known about how, when, where and why they occur, intensity scales, magnitude scales, etc. He also discusses many historical cases showing how damaging earthquakes can be and how they cause tsunamis. In the second part, the author discusses whether earthquakes can be predicted as well as methods being explored to reduce damage, save lives, etc.

Some reviewers have complained that the book's title and subtitle are misleading since there has never been a recorded "million death quake" and very little is provided in the book on predicting earthquakes. I agree that the title/subtitle could, perhaps, have been better selected. However, from my perspective, this does not detract from the many positive attributes of this fabulous book.

Unfortunately, I did find one minor error. Near the bottom of page 109, "work" is stated as being "mass times the distance moved". This is incorrect. In physics, "work" is force times the distance moved against this force. Thus, near the top of page 110, the example of shifting a refrigerator from one room to the next is a valid one since one is pushing against friction, but in the case of carrying a packed suitcase for several blocks there is no work involved since there is no force acting against the suitcase in the direction of motion (assumed to be horizontal).

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author's writing style is clear, highly accessible, lively, quite captivating and even occasionally a bit tongue-in-cheek. This book can be enjoyed by anyone. But science enthusiasts with a penchant for seismology should appreciate it the most.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Information December 31, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The extensive historical information brought me up to date on the status of seismology. Three years ago (Dec 2009) I moved into the Cascadia Subduction Zone in Oregon without understanding the exposure to a major disaster. It's certainly not what the chamber of commerce types have on their list of topics for publicity. The Million Death Quake taught me about earthquake science and is the best book I've read about seismology. Very helpful. I've stocked in survival supplies at my house and carry a survival pack in my pick up truck. I've also arranged to snow bird to Tucson, where I am from, for three of the cold rainy winter months to reduce my exposure to what a local seismologist predicts "will be the worst natural disaster in North America's recorded history", when the Cascadia Subduction Zone ruptures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative December 5, 2012
By mamacat
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Informative, but too much info on old theories, not enough on current ones and ways to prepare.
Disappointed in the end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good information saddled with a poor title September 6, 2013
By Wyo JOT
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The basic history of earthquake science is of great value as is the information on engineering and earthquake safety. I think the title was meant to sell more books. Yes, there is the chance of a quake costing a million deaths, but the author does not have a graded target list. He does point out that the Cascade fault zone has a history of strings of major quakes at 200 to 600 year intervals that can be followed by thousands of years of relative quiet. The author points out that there are major gaps in our knowledge of earthquakes and also that America is far behind in our preparations for major quakes. The author is skeptical of our ever being able to predict quakes in other then the most general time scales. He does state that our interconnected computer/smart phone age does offer hope of reducing death and injuries with trained people responding correctly to even short warnings. Full Rip 9.0 is a much better book if you live in Washington or Oregon and I am sure that the big quake/tsunami in Japan will spawn a number of new books. I recommend the book with reservations.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A sobering of "the big one" on steroids April 2, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When an earthquake reaches a rating of six or above, destruction can be especially devastating. But here Musson considers forces exponentially higher, causing death and destruction never seen before.
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