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The End is Nigh: A History of Natural Disasters

Popular Science

By: Henrik Svensen (Author)

238 pages, B/w illus

Reaktion Books

Hardback | Feb 2009 | #178769 | ISBN-13: 9781861894335
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.95 $21/€19 approx

About this book

The End is Nigh is a history of natural disasters, reaching back through more than 2000 years, and spanning many continents, including the Lisbon earthquake of 1755; the San Francisco earthquake of 1906; the South Asian tsunami of 2004; and hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005. Instead of being a mere catalogue of the world's calamities, however, Henrik Svensen has selected incidents that have in some way or other changed the course of history or the way that we view such tragedies: the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, for instance, is a fine example of how earthquake prevention became a part of new city planning.

During the course of The End is Nigh, Henrik Svensen also relates many gripping eyewitness accounts and individual destinies, investigating how these tragedies have changed us, the way that we live and how we think. When disaster strikes do we react differently today from how we did hundreds of years ago? Svensen shows that victims always seem to ask the same questions: Why did this happen to us, and not to someone else? Does the cause lie in unruly natural forces, or are we being punished by God for our sins? Or are disasters perhaps caused by our abuse of the environment?

Presenting results from many scientific disciplines, including geology, anthropology and sociology, The End is Nigh at the same time reveals the personal stories of the victims of natural disasters. The result is as instructive as it is affecting, and will appeal to a wide general audience, as well as to specialists and students in the field.

"Faced with its catalogue of plagues, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis, one can only hope that The End is Nigh proves an inaccurate title. But Henrik Svensen's fascinating book is more than a catalogue of catastrophes. When crops failed in Sweden a 1,000 years ago, the solution, tempting to us republicans, was a human sacrifice – of the king."
- The Independent

"Not so much "The end is nigh", more "The end has been nigh many times". Henrik Svensen tackles the topic of how natural disasters shape human society. Understandably, the interplay between religion and science is a prominent theme [...] The book's strength is its wealth of examples, some as recent as hurricane Katrina [...] The most gripping parts are when geologist Svensen relates his own experience finding spontaneous subterranean fires in Mali."
- New Scientist

"More than anything else, [The End is Nigh] is a multi-faceted and scientifically vivid history of a phenomenon that is shaping our civilization more than we realize."
- Aftenposten, Norway

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Henrik Svensen is a senior researcher at the Physics of Geological Processes Centre, University of Oslo, Norway.

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