"What drives natural disasters? If we understand the underlying dynamics, can we control them? Or at least mitigate their effects? Or will we remain powerless in the face of them? What can we do to live in harmony with our planet? Is it even possible? Or are humans always going to be with odds with the nonhuman world? To address these and other questions, let me lead you on a tour that will take us around the world and include investigations into the dynamic forces and changes of state that drive disasters." - pp 14-15
According to author Susan W. Kieffer the problem with the science regarding natural disasters is that it is "riddled with incompleteness and uncertainties". There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, because the human life span is so short each individual experiences only a small fraction of the ongoing geological processes that occur on our planet in his or her lifetime. Secondly, most people are only familiar with the types of natural disasters that take place in the area in which they live. For example, people residing in the Northeast are intimately familiar with hurricanes but have precious little knowledge of earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis or landslides. Finally, the potential exists for gargantuan geologic disasters that might occur only once in a century, a millennium or even once every million years. In an effort to bring us all up to speed on these monumentally important issues Kieffer has just released her impressive new book "The Dynamics of Disaster". The book is a heroic attempt to bring geology to the masses and to inform us all of the potential dangers that are lurking all around us. You will discover that all natural disasters are the result of changes in the distribution of energy within the earth. It is a real eye-opener.
In the pages of "The Dynamics of Disaster" Susan Kieffer offers up the science behind such natural calamities as hurricanes, tornados, volcanoes, tsunamis, drought, and landslides to name but a few. Now in spite of the fact that I do not have much of an aptitude for the sciences I am pleased to report that I was pretty much able to grasp most of the concepts that the author was attempting to convey to her audience. The numerous photographs and illustrations presented certainly were a big help in that regard. I learned that one geological disaster, such as a volcanic eruption, can initiate a chain reaction that unleashes a number of other disasters. I also discovered that the ability of the scientific community to predict these events and to save lives is slowing improving but that a more coordinated effort to share information is badly needed. Towards the end of the book Kieffer proposes a common sense solution to address this problem. For this reader the most fascinating topic in the book was a phenomenon known as "rogue waves". I had never heard of them before! I was "blown away" by the fact that these "rogue waves" occur not only on the oceans but also on large bodies of fresh water such as the Great Lakes. Furthermore, there is considerable speculation that it was one of these "rogue waves" that was responsible for the sinking of the freighter SS Edmond Fitzgerald on a bitter cold night on Lake Superior in November 1975. Positively fascinating! Finally, the reader is introduced to the intriguing concept of the "unknown unknowns". Kieffer writes "What are the "unknown unknown's"? I'm not trying to be deeply philosophical here, but rather to bring the incomplete state of our knowledge to your attention. Could the state of our existence--as we know it--possibly change dramatically in ways that we have not yet experienced or even imagined? In other words, is it possible that unknown unknowns are lurking?" In think about the speculation surround the potential of sunspot activity disrupting the power grid. It is a concept certainly worthy of careful consideration.
Over the years I have read close to three dozen books about disasters, both natural and man-made. It has always been one of my favorite genres. Most of these books focus on the reaction and the tragic consequences of these events. Susan Kieffer has taken an entirely different approach in attempting to explain the cause and effects of all of these recurring events in nature. I found "The Dynamics of Nature" to be a highly informative and well-written offering that is certainly worthy of your consideration. This is a book that should appeal to wide cross-section of readers including history buffs, weather junkies, those interested in earth science and general audiences as well. Highly recommended!
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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more