"...gripping thesis and prose
a must-read for any sociologist (nay, for any curious thinker), not just risk or disaster researchers." -- Contemporary Sociology, May 2006, Eugene Rosa, Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor, Washington State University
"Worst Cases is packed with gems for laypeople and scholars alike." Robert A. Stallings, University of Southern California -- Contemporary Sociology, May 2006, Robert Stallings, University of Southern California
tour de force
"immersed in sociological tradition, focusing on social and political structures, social organizations, stratification, inequality...important insights..." -- Contemporary Sociology, May 2006, Havidan Rodriquez (Director, Disaster Research Center) University of Delaware, John Barnshaw, Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware
From the Author
I am not an alarmist, but I am alarmed. Thats why I wrote Worst Cases. It is also why my tone and language are non-technical. I am a sociologist but I wrote Worst Cases so that non-sociologists can read it, hopefully profitably.
There are those who say we shouldnt worry about things that are unlikely to happen. Thats what your pilot means by saying, after a turbulent cross country flight, "youve just completed the safest part of your trip." We hear the same thing when officials tell us that the probability of a nuclear power plant melting down is vanishingly small. Or that the likelihood of an asteroid striking the earth is one in a million, billion, or trillion. Chance is in our favor.
In fact, chance is often not in our favor. Disaster and failure are indeed normal, and as a colleague of mine puts it, things that have never happened before happen all the time. A fair number of those things end up being events we call worst cases. When that happens were given opportunities to learn things about society, and human nature, that are usually obscured.
Thomas Hardy said that "
if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst." In this book I look at the Worst full in the face. What I see is frightening, but also enlightening. I hold, tenuously, to the idea that knowing a thing permits comfort with that thing. Sometimes the comfort comes from greater control. Sometimes it comes just from knowing the enemy, or the scary thing, which proffers a way forward, toward more safety. There is horror in disaster. But there is much more too, for we can use calamity to glean wisdom, even hope. Just as Hardy said.
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