The Big Ones

The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them) by Dr. Lucy Jones

Seismologist Lucy Jones describes a wide variety of natural disasters and ways communities can prepare for the future. I started reading this book after the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake in eastern California, the day after a 6.4 magnitude quake, both of which she discussed at news conferences and at multiple television stations. As well as being a noted scientist, Dr. Jones is also an excellent storyteller, making the science behind volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods accessible to readers.

Two points she made repeatedly stand out for me: humans dislike randomness, look for patterns, and sometimes demand prediction even though many natural disasters are very hard to predict. In addition, we tend to forget events that happened more than three generations ago, even major natural disasters. Many Japanese coastal villages have stone tsunami markers, which saved some villages in 2011 but went unheeded in others. I had never heard about the megafloods in California and other western states in the winter of 1861-2. Huge lakes covered telegraph poles over an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Villages and farms were wiped out, and cities like Sacramento were completely regraded on a higher level. But a similar flood today would be even more devastating.

Jones writes about Pompeii, modern Italy, Lisbon, Iceland, Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, and much more. She also talks about working with Los Angeles to make the city more resilient to a future quake, and stresses the importance of planning for events that are very likely to happen, even though we don’t know exactly when or where. Suggested for readers interested in science, history, or natural disasters.
Brenda

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