When the earth quivers and bounces we take notice. You know that strange half-panic, half-amused state in which you’re waiting…waiting to see how bad it’s going to get? Body tensed for flight, senses finely tuned. I know that when I’m sitting in my lounge watching my furniture being randomly rearranged, I don’t expend a lot of effort wondering about the science of it. I’m only looking to see how far the coffee table in front of me moves so that I can decide if I’m going to flee from the house.
But later – after it’s over. Have you ever wondered exactly what causes all that commotion? When the earth rocks and rolls, it’s of no small interest to me what causes it – not that I can do much about it. Oh, by the way, like many Madang residents, I can look out my front door and clearly see one of the most potentially dangerous volcanoes on the planet: Kar Kar Island. And it’s close enough to erase my existence if it’s of a mind to do so.
These two books, Krakatoa (primarily about the 1883 eruption which was the most powerful in recorded history) and A Crack in the Edge of the World (mainly about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) will answer all your questions and show you a good time while doing so. Never more will you yawn knowingly and say something like, “Ah yes, those subduction zones. They should do something about them.” Terms like tectonic plates and strike-slip faults will no longer be irritating when some know-it-all throws them out for the enlightenment of ordinary dullards like us.
Simon Winchester has given us a couple of books that will both entertain greatly and solve the puzzle of why earthquakes and volcanoes happen at all. More interesting is why they happen so very much more often in certain places. They are, in short, a sound read in seismology and geology for the layperson. The science is delivered in clear and simple terms and is always tied to the events and the stories of people somehow connected to them.
Thanks to my friend and fellow diver, Michael Wolfe, for lending them to me.