Sunday, 20 January 2013

FIRE by Stephen J. Pyne

Fire: Nature and Culture
Stephen J. Pyne (2012)

Fire has been an integral feature of our planet for over 400 million years. It has defined human culture from the beginning; it is something without which we cannot survive. While among the most destructive forces on Earth, fire displays equally tremendous powers of cleansing and renewal.

Whether hunting, foraging, farming, herding, building towns or managing nature reserves, fire has been at the core of most human endeavours. With the means to make fire, as origin myths attest, humanity diverged from the rest of creation, and began reshaping the world for its own benefit. Aboriginal societies relied on the control of ignition alone; agricultural societies added control over fuel. Over the past 200 years, however, humanity has found a massive new world of combustibles in the form of fossil biomass and with new combustion practices has radically changed the world’s ecological balance. Throughout history, we have mastered the science and art of fire, but there have been many culturally defining fire disasters going back to antiquity.

In Fire Stephen J. Pyne offers a succinct survey of fire’s long coevolution with humanity. It examines fire’s influence on landscapes, art, science and, in recent times, climate. Fire is lavishly illustrated with images rarely reproduced or unseen in the context of fire. It will appeal to general readers curious to understand fire beyond what is seen in the media, and to fire specialists looking for a broadly cultural explanation behind their discipline.
Stephen J. Pyne is a Regent’s Professor of Environmental History in the School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University. He is the world’s leading fire historian and author of many books on the subject of fire, including Fire: A Brief History and Vestal Fire: a Fire History of Europe.

EARTHQUAKE by Andrew Robinson

Earthquake: Nature and Culture
by Andrew Robinson (2012)


Los Angeles and Tokyo, Istanbul and Beijing, Lima and Cairo are among the more than 60 large cities at definite risk from an earthquake. Although European cities seem less vulnerable, devastating earthquakes have hit Athens, Bucharest, Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and Naples, among others, over the past three centuries. Even London experienced a shock in 1884 that stopped MPs in the Houses of Parliament in their tracks.

This book describes two millennia of major earthquakes and their effects on societies around the world; the ways in which cultures have mythologized earthquakes through religion, the arts and popular culture; and the science of measuring, understanding and trying to predict earthquakes. According to Charles Darwin, a great earthquake in Chile in 1835 was the single most interesting event of his entire five-year journey around the globe on HMS Beagle.

Despite advances in both science and engineering, and improved disaster preparedness, earthquakes continue to cause immense loss of life and damage. The Haiti earthquake of 2010 took some quarter of a million lives. No one will ever forget the catastrophic tsunami unleashed in 2011 by a magnitude-9 earthquake off the east coast of Japan – a crisis described by Japan’s prime minister as the most disastrous national event since the atomic bomb strikes of 1945. Tokyo was largely unaffected in 2011, unlike in 1703, 1855 and 1923, when earthquakes ravaged the capital. How long will it be before the next big Tokyo earthquake?

Written by a highly experienced science writer, journalist and scholar, Earthquake will appeal as much to general readers of popular science as it will to experts in many fields.

'Studying earthquakes is somewhat like the apocryphal medical school dean who tells students: "Half of what we will teach you in the next four years is wrong. The problem is that we don't know which half." Robinson conveys this spirit in a lively and well-written introduction to earthquakes and how people discovered, struggle to understand, and try to figure out how to deal with this dramatic, destructive, and still poorly understood phenomenon.'
– Seth Stein, seismologist and author of Disaster Deferred: How New Science Is Changing Our View of Earthquake Hazards in the Midwe

Andrew Robinson is the author of 25 books on the arts and sciences, including the prize-winning Earthshock: Hurricanes, Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Tornadoes and Other Forces of Nature, The Story of Measurement and The Scientists: An Epic of Discovery (as editor). He also writes for the science journals, The Lancet, Nature and New Scientist. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society.