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In Megadisasters, Florin Diacu takes the reader on a gripping tour of all the forces of nature that wreak havoc on our species, forcing us all, in the end, to cherish every day that Earth does not manage to kill us. -- Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of "The Pluto Files" Like a scientific detective, Diacu presents a riveting account of spine-chilling megadisasters facing our civilization, ranging from abrupt climate change to killer comets and the collapse of the world's financial system. This book held me totally spellbound. -- Edward Belbruno, author of "Fly Me to the Moon" Megadisasters tracks the history of our development of knowledge about sudden catastrophes. The book is well conceived and written with considerable clarity. Diacu does a nice job of showing what is predictable and what isn't. -- William F. Ruddiman, author of "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate" This book is timely. The public and even many scientists misunderstand the limits of our ability to predict natural (and some not-so-natural) events. Diacu writes well and effectively integrates the human experience with disasters and provides a historic background for our understanding of a variety of natural phenomena. Megadisasters is a winner. -- Grant Heiken, coauthor of "The Seven Hills of Rome: A Geological Tour of the Eternal City"

Table of Contents

Prologue: Glimpsing the Future xi Chapter 1: Walls of Water: Tsunamis 1 Chapter 2: Land in Upheaval: Earthquakes 21 Chapter 3: Chimneys of Hell: Volcanic Eruptions 42 Chapter 4: Giant Whirlwinds: Hurricanes, Cyclones, and Typhoons 63 Chapter 5: Mutant Seasons: Rapid Climate Change 86 Chapter 6: Earth in Collision: Cosmic Impacts 109 Chapter 7: Economic Breakdown: Financial Crashes 128 Chapter 8: Tiny Killers: Pandemics 149 Chapter 9: Models and Prediction: How Far Can We Go? 168 Acknowledgments 179 Notes 181 Selected Bibliography 189 Index 193

About the Author

Florin Diacu is professor of mathematics and former director of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences at the University of Victoria in Canada. He is the coauthor of "Celestial Encounters: The Origins of Chaos and Stability" and the coeditor of "Classical and Celestial Mechanics: The Recife Lectures" (both Princeton).


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010 "He is at his best when discussing matters closest to his own field, celestial mathematics; and he makes a compelling case for developing the means, as the Russians appear to be doing, of batting asteroids out of humanity's ballpark."--Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal "Author and mathematics professor Diacu (Celestial Encounters: The Origins of Chaos and Stability) presents a civilian-friendly guide to methods, like numerical modeling, used to understand, quantify, and possibly predict disasters. Written simply but without being simplistic, Diacu's text is driven by enthusiasm for his field and its potential for solving some of humanity's big problems. In nine chapters, Diacu examines natural disasters--volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes and typhoons, tsunamis and floods--but also takes time to examine human-driven disasters: financial collapse, pandemic disease, and climate change. Diacu chronicles the history of each field of prediction clearly and concisely, illustrating how developments in mathematics drove developments in geology, and vice-versa, as well as the unpredictable variables as dictated by 'the monkey in the machine,' chaos theory. A chapter on climate change is particularly insightful and important. Few non-scientists understand how climate models work, but it would dispel a lot of skepticism if they did; Diacu manages it in just seven pages, in language anyone can understand."--Publishers Weekly, starred review "The result is an excellent history of natural disasters and of the science behind understanding and mitigating those disasters. For a who's who of volcanic eruptions, major earthquakes, big hurricanes, asteroid near-hits or historic pandemics, this book is the place to go."--Kristina Bartlett Brody, Science News "Diacu's little histories of predicting eight varieties of disaster are pretty absorbing and informative."--Ray Olson, Booklist "Diacu is a mathematician who uses his professional and outstanding literary skills to provide a remarkable analysis of the 'science' of prediction... In an age where the news media and large sections of society seem to feast on dire predictions and the threat of many 'imminent' disasters, Megadisasters should be required reading for all intelligent human beings."--Choice "Our desire to predict the future is certainly an interesting story that has led to some fascinating work, and it is well described here. Diacu takes us for a good tour of the science behind predictions in areas as diverse as mudslides, financial crashes, epidemics and climate change. And there are also exciting stories, like the one about the first people to fly into the eye of a hurricane."--David Orrell, Literary Review of Canada

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