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After the Earth Quakes: Elastic Rebound on an Urban Planet [Hardcover]

Susan Elizabeth Hough , Roger G. Bilham

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Book Description

April 21 2006
Earthquakes rank among the most terrifying natural disasters faced by mankind. Out of a clear blue sky-or worse, a jet black one-comes shaking strong enough to hurl furniture across the room, human bodies out of bed, and entire houses off of their foundations. When the dust settles, the immediate aftermath of an earthquake in an urbanized society can be profound. Phone and water supplies can be disrupted for days, fires erupt, and even a small number of overpass collapses can snarl traffic for months. However, when one examines the collective responses of developed societies to major earthquake disasters in recent historic times, a somewhat surprising theme emerges: not only determination, but resilience; not only resilience, but acceptance; not only acceptance, but astonishingly, humor. Elastic rebound is one of the most basic tenets of modern earthquake science, the term that scientists use to describe the build-up and release of energy along faults. It is also the best metaphor for societal responses to major earthquakes in recent historic times. After The Earth Quakes focuses on this theme, using a number of pivotal and intriguing historic earthquakes as illustration. The book concludes with a consideration of projected future losses on an increasingly urbanized planet, including the near-certainty that a future earthquake will someday claim over a million lives. This grim prediction impels us to take steps to mitigate earthquake risk, the innately human capacity for rebound notwithstanding.

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"After the Earth Quakes is definitely a worthy book to read. Since the authors manage to convey their message, as well as some basic seismological concepts, without a single equation, it is accessible to the general public, however it will be enjoyed most by seismologists and engineers because of its historic and geodynamics contents. This book should be read by all students of seismology so that they know the genesis of their science, and should be required reading for all functionaries in a wide range of policy making positions."--Pure and Applied Geophysics

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78 halftones, maps & line illus.

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intensity v. Magnitude Dec 18 2005
By Bruce Crocker - Published on
Susan Hough, rising star of the southern California earthquake science scene, and Roger Bilham, professor extraordinaire from the University of Colorado Boulder, have given us a very different earthquake book in _After the Earth Quakes: elastic rebound on an Urban planet_. Hough and Bilham focus primarily on historical earthquakes for which no instrumental readings exist and for which researchers must use anecdotal and often flawed "felt reports" and pre-photographic damage surveys to reconstruct the events surrounding an earthquake. The authors show us how the seismic sciences advanced with each new devastating earthquake, starting with the great Lisbon earthquake [and tsunami and fire] of 1755. The book is more or less chronological through chapter 8 and then splays off like a complex fault zone into more topical chapters [tsunamis, Los Angeles]. The book is both optimistic - the use of the term elastic rebound metaphorically to refer to how humans usually react [positively and generously] after a destructive earthquake - and pessimistic - even though scientists long ago internalized the idea that Nick Ambraseys summarizes with the quote "Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do!", urban humanity may bring on even bigger disasters by failing to enact or ignoring well-designed building codes [often after the cold calculations of a cost-benefit analysis].

In my opinion, by focusing on earthquake intensity [as measured on the modified Mercalli scale using "felt reports" and damage surveys], _After the Earth Quakes_ is a great companion piece to other earthquakes books that focus on geophysics and earthquake magnitude [as measured on the Gutenberg-Richter scale]. I learned my earthquake theory at Penn State, but I've done my earthquake field work as a resident of southern California, where I've seen smaller quakes like the M5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake do major damage and larger earthquakes like the M7.3 Landers quake and the M7.1 Hector Mine quake do little to no damage. It is hard not to resonate deeply with _After the Earth Quakes_ when one lives in a state that still has unreinforced masonry buildings in earthquake zones over a hundred years after we first figured out that they don't stand up to strong ground shaking.

I highly recommend _After the Earth Quakes_ to any reader with an interest in earthquakes and history and I think it should be mandatory reading for all politicians, civil engineers, and city planners.

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