Synopses & Reviews
On November 1, 1755 All Saints' Day a massive earthquake struck Europe's Iberian Peninsula and destroyed the city of Lisbon. Churches collapsed upon thousands of worshippers celebrating the holy day. Earthquakes in Human History
tells the story of that calamity and other epic earthquakes.
The authors, Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders, recapture the power of their previous book, Volcanoes in Human History. They vividly explain the geological processes responsible for earthquakes, and they describe how these events have had long-lasting aftereffects on human societies and cultures. Their accounts are enlivened with quotations from contemporary literature and from later reports.
In the chaos following the Lisbon quake, government and church leaders vied for control. The Marques de Pombal rose to power and became a virtual dictator. As a result, the Roman Catholic Jesuit Order lost much of its influence in Portugal. Voltaire wrote his satirical work Candide to refute the philosophy of optimism, the belief that God had created a perfect world. And the 1755 earthquake sparked the search for a scientific understanding of natural disasters.
Ranging from an examination of temblors mentioned in the Bible, to a richly detailed account of the 1906 catastrophe in San Francisco, to Japan's Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, to the Peruvian earthquake in 1970 (the Western Hemisphere's greatest natural disaster), this book is an unequaled testament to a natural phenomenon that can be not only terrifying but also threatening to humankind's fragile existence, always at risk because of destructive powers beyond our control.
"Weekend scholars and disaster fans will find the physical and the social sciences blend interestingly, if sometimes a bit awkwardly, in this study of earthquakes across the centuries. As in their previous book, Volcanoes in Human History, coauthors de Boer and Sanders consider the repercussions of natural disasters on everything from literature and religion to politics and science. Early chapters consider biblical references to a quaking earth ('the coincidence of [Joshua's] easy passage across the Jordan and the easy conquest of Jericho suggests the aftermath of a major earthquake') and show how 14th- and 18th-century earthquakes in England and Portugal were taken as signs from God (encouraged by fiery preacher John Wesley, Londoners who had suffered through several small quakes in 1750 saw Portugal's disastrous 1755 quake as yet another warning of God's displeasure with sinners). A discussion of the New Madrid, Mo., quake of 1811 notes that while it was one of the strongest ever recorded in North America (it was followed by 1,874 aftershocks), it remains relatively unknown because the region was little populated. Modern-era quakes in San Francisco (1906), Kanto, Japan (1923), Peru (1970) and Nicaragua (1972) round out the book; the links between seismic aftermath and revolutionary ferment in the latter two countries nicely pinpoint the significant interplay between planetary and sociopolitical upheaval. Illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[E]arthquakes frequently change how we look at God and how we look at government." William R. Wineke, Wisconsin State Journal
"[A] splendid geographical and cultural survey of how, over the centuries, the unquiet Earth has altered our sense of nature." Russell Seitz, The Wall Street Journal
"Earthquakes in Human History moves through the centuries and across the continents to show how earthquakes have shaped different societies. With a cast of characters that includes God and his ever-feared wrath, Cleopatra, Voltaire, Mark Twain, and the Sandinistas, it is an engaging and at times thrilling tale. I am confident that it will accomplish the authors' goal of nudging scientists to recognize the social and cultural impact of the geosciences and encouraging historians and others to explore scientific explanations for natural disasters."--Charles Walker, University of California, Davis
"Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders have provided us with evidence that natural phenomena, in this case earthquakes, can sometimes have long-term historical consequences in changing the fate of cultures. With examples ranging from biblical to modern times, they show how destructive earthquakes have interacted with wars, religious beliefs, and political movements in changing history. Each account is preceded by a generally accessible account of the geological processes that led to the fateful earthquake. A fascinating read and an antidote to the usual anthropocentric views of history such as that of Arnold Toynbee."--Christopher H. Scholz, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University
Table of Contents
Table of Conversions xv
CHAPTER 1: Earthquakes: Origins and Consequences 1
Sidebar: induced earthquakes
Sidebar: mark twain's earthquake almanac
CHAPTER 2: In the Holy Land: Earthquakes and the Hand of God 22
CHAPTER 3: The Decline of Ancient Sparta: A Tale of Hoplites, Helots, and a Quaking Earth 45
Sidebar: euripides, homer, and aristotle
CHAPTER 4: Earthquakes in England: Echoes in Religion and Literature 65
CHAPTER 5: The Great Lisbon Earthquake and the Axiom "Whatever Is, Is Right" 88
Sidebar: the wonderful "one-hoss-shay"
CHAPTER 6: New Madrid, Missouri, in 1811: The Once and Future Disaster 108
Sidebar: a disastrous reprise?
CHAPTER 7: Earthquake, Fire, and Politics in San Francisco 139
Sidebar: causes of quakes in the bay area
CHAPTER 8: Japan's Great Kanto Earthquake: "Hell Let Loose on Earth" 170
Sidebar: the kamakura earthquake of 1257 and the rise of the lotus sect
CHAPTER 9: Peru in 1970: Chaos in the Andes 194
Sidebar: in chile--tsunamis, devastation, and darwin
CHAPTER 10: The 1972 Managua Earthquake: Catalyst for Revolution 221
Notes and References 253