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Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions [Paperback]

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer , Donald Theodore Sanders , Robert D. Ballard
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 21 2004

When the volcano Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815, as many as 100,000 people perished as a result of the blast and an ensuing famine caused by the destruction of rice fields on Sumbawa and neighboring islands. Gases and dust particles ejected into the atmosphere changed weather patterns around the world, resulting in the infamous ''year without a summer'' in North America, food riots in Europe, and a widespread cholera epidemic. And the gloomy weather inspired Mary Shelley to write the gothic novel Frankenstein.

This book tells the story of nine such epic volcanic events, explaining the related geology for the general reader and exploring the myriad ways in which the earth's volcanism has affected human history. Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders describe in depth how volcanic activity has had long-lasting effects on societies, cultures, and the environment. After introducing the origins and mechanisms of volcanism, the authors draw on ancient as well as modern accounts--from folklore to poetry and from philosophy to literature. Beginning with the Bronze Age eruption that caused the demise of Minoan Crete, the book tells the human and geological stories of eruptions of such volcanoes as Vesuvius, Krakatau, Mount Pelée, and Tristan da Cunha. Along the way, it shows how volcanism shaped religion in Hawaii, permeated Icelandic mythology and literature, caused widespread population migrations, and spurred scientific discovery.

From the prodigious eruption of Thera more than 3,600 years ago to the relative burp of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the results of volcanism attest to the enduring connections between geology and human destiny.


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In 1815, Napoleon's armies fell to defeat at Waterloo, a clash that would change the course of world events. Far more Europeans died that year, though, as a result of a volcanic explosion in Indonesia--one cataclysmic eruption among the many that figure in this sidelong view of the Earth's history.

The explosion of Tambora in April 1815, geologists de Boer and Sanders write, sent a plume of volcanic ash high into the planet's atmosphere, bringing on a "nuclear winter" that devastated crops in the northern hemisphere, yielding famine and plague. Moreover, they add, the explosion cast a hazy pall over much of Europe, a gloom that inspired Mary Shelley to write her famed novel, Frankenstein. Another explosion, more than 3,000 years earlier, pulverized the Mediterranean island of Thera, giving rise to the legend of Atlantis and causing whole civilizations to collapse. Still another eruption on the island of Tristan da Cunha, in 1961, "brought [the 20th century] to this most isolated of the earth's inhabited places."

The authors' overview of nature's ability to thwart human intentions makes for fascinating reading, sure to appeal to fans of Perils of a Restless Planet, Surviving Galeras, and other chronicles of the trembling earth. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

After an introductory chapter on volcanism, this volume by geologists Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders shifts its focus to particular volcanic events (e.g., Vesuvius, Mt. Pel‚e, Krakatau) and areas of volcanic activity (e.g., the Hawaiian Islands and Iceland). The events themselves are described, but the emphasis is on the long-term effects of volcanic activity. The authors make it clear that those effects extend beyond the location of the volcano; there are widespread repercussions that influence everything from literature and religion to population migrations and global weather patterns. The authors have applied their geologic knowledge and experience, along with solid research, to produce an accessible book on volcanoes. It is more readable than either Alwyn Scarth's Vulcan's Fury (LJ 9/1/99) or Haraldur Sigurdsson's Melting the Earth (LJ 5/1/99), both of which are referenced. The authors also make good use of historical sources, such as Charles Morris's Volcano's Deadly Work (1902) and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Jean E. Crampon, Science & Engineering Lib., Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Science and Humanity March 13 2003
Format:Hardcover
This book is written in a clear and engaging style that conveys a scientific understanding of vulcanoloy and the consequences, both positive and negative, of volcanic activity on human life and society.
The authors incorporate a discussion of the physical processes that drive volcanic activity with vivid descriptions of historic eruptions. The book includes nine well-chosen case studies that highight differences in type, intensity and effects of eruption. The authors vividly describe the effects of volcanic eruptions on natural and human environments, human history and human behavior. Throughout the book are highly explanatory yet simple illustrations of the natural processes at work and the specific volcanoes under study.
The authors convey the inspiring power of volcanic acitivity and place natural and human impacts within short and long-term perspectives. This book is clear and informative science coupled with thought provoking history and engaging human interest.
From plate tectonics and environmental impact, to entertaining stories of the effects of volcanic eruptions on art and literature or the creation of mythology, to thought-provoking effects on human life, migration and economic decline - its all here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Volcanoes in Human History Nov. 3 2002
Format:Hardcover
Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions written by Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders is an engaging book about the awesome power of volcanoes its effects and how volcanoes are born. This book takes the reader on a short journey through time as we explore the origins and mechanisms of volcanism and shoing us how this affected human history, societies, cultures, and the environment.
This book explores nine volcanic eruptions, diccussing the geological setting in terms of plate tectonics; the theory that virtually rigid segments of the earth's crust move about over a less rigid layer and collide, and that the collisions give rise to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Then the book goes over the human terms following the aftereffects of volcanic eruption.
Volcanism is the surface manifestation of a living earth, the author likens a volcanic eruption as the plucking of a long tight-stretched string representing time: when the string is plucked it vibrates. Where the string is plucked is the volcanic activity or eruption where a great deal of energy is being released, the vibrations will have high amplitudes and short wavelengths. These vibrations will be powerful, but only last for a short time. But, as the vibration flows down the string (time), the amplitudes will decrease and the wavelengths increase, whithat the aftereffects will become less intense and they will last longer. The eruption will last days, volcanic aftereffects will last months, Climate change, Famine, epidemics, diaspora will last years; Economic and ecologic revival will last decades, and cultural effects will last centuries.
The books narrative is easy to read and is very understandable making this subject easy to understand.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Living Under The Volcano Aug. 16 2002
Format:Hardcover
We are used to having to deal with changes in the weather, but twenty years ago, meteorologists were having to deal with a new atmospheric manifestation. Mount Saint Helens had blown up in the state of Washington, and had affected air quality, air travel, and emotions in the region, and had world-wide weather consequences. It certainly was not the first time a volcano shaped the weather, for volcanoes have had major effects on weather and even history. _Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions_ (Princeton University Press) by Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders takes nine famous or obscure volcanoes and demonstrates that volcanoes are an active part of our lives.
Surprisingly, volcanic effects are not all bad. Volcanic soils are very fertile, and we use plenty of minerals of volcanic origin. The gases from volcanoes made the Earth's atmosphere before photosynthesis took over. Many geologists think that all the water on earth was originally released by volcanoes. The book shows a very interesting aspect of Hawaii, in that it is in the middle of the Pacific plate, not near the edges where the plates are barging into each other and which are the usual sites of volcanic activity. The plate carrying the islands is floating slowly over a particular hotspot, which pokes up as the plate floats over it, and gives rise to the familiar Hawaiian Island chain. Iceland is on such a hotspot, too, and besides that, it straddles the Mid-Atlantic ridge, where the ocean floor is being split apart as the plates separate at about two centimeters a year.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Vibrating String Jan. 26 2002
Format:Hardcover
For someone who enjoys both history and natural science, "Volcanoes in Humany History" is a happy marriage. It's not exactly a page-turner, because the authors don't try to be too dramatic. They do, however, write simply and clearly, letting the eruptions and their consequences speak for themselves.
The authors' thesis is that each major eruption produces a "vibrating string" of historical effects, ranging from the eruption itself, to the immediate aftermath, to climate change, famine and epidemic, to economic and ecological revival, and finally to cultural effects that can span centuries.
The book covers nine volcanic systems, their eruptions and the resulting historical fallout: The Hawaiian Islands, where the clash between lava and ocean gave rise to a colorful mythology; Thera, whose catastrophic eruption in the Bronze Age may have destroyed Minoan civilization and produced the legend of Atlantis; Mount Vesuvius, whose eruption in 79 AD entombed and preserved the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum; Iceland, whose position above a magma plume and the spreading ocean floor gave rise to horrific eruptions and grim legends; Mount Tambora, the Indonesian volcano that caused the "Year Without a Summer" in 1816; Krakatau, whose tidal waves killed tens of thousand of people in 1883; Mount Pelee, whose pyroclastic flows killed the 30,000 citizens of St. Pierre in an instant in 1902; Tristan da Cunha, whose eruption displaced an idyllic island society; and Mount St. Helens, which in 1980 reminded the Pacific Northwest that "the Giants are only asleep.
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