The subtitle of this book is “Four Events That Changed The World”, which might raise a question in some people’s minds since none is earlier than 1755. Well, it’s not saying these are the only important disasters to change the world, or even the most important; the idea is, I think, that these are events which prompted thought, scientific advances, and provisions for the future. The earthquake in Lisbon prompted innovation in building techniques; the toxic fog in Europe prompted thinkers like Franklin to work on the atmosphere (and gave us important information about climate change); Krakatau prompted research on volcanoes and impacted ecosystems; the tsunami in Hilo prompted international cooperation to get together a warning system.
These aren’t really about single great triumphs of someone in particular, but about the development of a deeper understanding of the Earth and the way it works. Sadly for me, it’s mostly about eyewitness accounts and less about the scientists, architects and politicians who had to respond to the events. It’s pretty much disaster porn to just go on about the way someone’s skin was hanging off their body during the eruption of Krakatau — I’d be much more interested in the scientific side of things.
But I guess for that, I have my Open University textbook… I just wish this had been somewhere in between: illustrative, but more scientific. It’s not badly written, and there is interesting information, but I got a little bit tired of the scenes of horror.