CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 1999
The severity of shaking to which a building is exposed during an earthquake depends on the nature of the ground it is built on. Buildings founded on bedrock sustain the least damage. Those with foundations in loose sedimentary soils or reclaimed land are the most vulnerable because these materials contain numerous air gaps, which intensify the surface movements of seismic waves. Also, groundwater is forced upward and fills these gaps, and the saturated ground liquefies, turning into a soft slurry that can no longer support the weight of the buildings above it.The incredibly powerful forces of nature which often cause widespread destruction and tragic loss of life are examined in this awe-inspiring book. Part One is divided into four sections: the first deals with earthquakes and volcanoes; the second discusses thunderstorms, tornadoes, cyclones, gales and blizzards; next, a look at droughts, fires, floods, avalanches and landslides; and the last section focuses on blights, insects, disease-causing viruses and bacteria. Part Two is comprised of a comprehensive gazetteer, featuring eight maps on which 550 natural disaster sites are plotted. Each site number corresponds to an entry in the gazetteer listings which indicate the type of disaster and the year of its occurrence and include a few brief explanatory notes. A glossary and an index are also provided.
One of the book's many strengths is the text in that it offers thorough explanations of the causes and effects of the disasters. As well, the text includes several dramatic first-hand accounts of people who were either directly involved in a particular disaster or who were responsible for its subsequent clean-up or the search for survivors, and it sometimes gives interesting trivia. One example of such trivia is the anecdote about Mary Shelley, who, in the summer following a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia, was on vacation in Switzerland with friends. The constant bad weather, caused by the eruption, forced the group to stay indoors. To amuse themselves, Shelley and her friends wrote horror stories. It was during this time that she penned the famous Frankenstein. The text also includes information about scientific developments in monitoring, predicting and understanding natural disasters. Scientists suggest that, according to an established pattern, in less than 1,000 years the earth's climate will become unstable and temperatures will drop, causing droughts, floods and freezing. However, this pattern may already have been seriously disrupted by recent human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels.
Another of the book's major strengths is its abundant illustrations-- maps, charts and fabulous colour photographs (many of which are quite graphic) that document nature's fury and its aftermath. Many of the photos will have readers staring in fascination; some will evoke sadness and sympathy for their subjects, innocent victims of a flood or famine. All of the photographs are accompanied by explanatory paragraphs.
The book's message is clear: despite mankind's scientific advances, people are just as vulnerable to the destructive forces of nature as they ever were, and, in some cases, might actually be contributing to the causes of natural disasters and changes in the environment.
A compelling book-- a "must-have" for every library.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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