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What does it take for a volcanic eruption to really shake the world? Did volcanic eruptions extinguish the dinosaurs, or help humans to evolve, only to decimate their populations with a super-eruption 73,000 years ago? Did they contribute to the ebb and flow of ancient empires, the French Revolution and the rise of fascism in Europe in the 19th century? These are some of the claims made for volcanic cataclysm. Volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer explores rich geological, historical, archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records (such as ice cores and tree rings) to tell the stories behind some of the greatest volcanic events of the past quarter of a billion years. He shows how a forensic approach to volcanology reveals the richness and complexity behind cause and effect, and argues that important lessons for future catastrophe risk management can be drawn from understanding events that took place even at the dawn of human origins.
1. Fire and brimstone: how volcanoes work
2. Eruption styles, hazards and ecosystem impacts
3. Volcanoes and global climate change
4. Forensic volcanology
5. Relics, myths and chronicles
6. Killer plumes
7. Human origins
8. The ash-giant / sulphur-dwarf
9. European volcanism in prehistory
10. The rise of Teotihuacan
11. Dark Ages: dark nature?
12. The Haze famine
13. The last great subsistence crisis in the western world
14. Volcanic catastrophe risk
Appendix A Volcano trumps: notable eruptions of the past 10,000 years
Appendix B Further reading
Clive Oppenheimer is a Reader in Volcanology and Remote Sensing at the University of Cambridge and a Research Associate of 'Le Stadium' Institute for Advanced Studies at ISTO (University of Orleans/CNRS). His research focuses on understanding the chemistry and physics of volcanism, and the climatic and human impacts of eruptions in antiquity. He has carried out fieldwork worldwide in collaboration with archaeologists, atmospheric scientists and other geologists. Since 2003, he has studied the lava lake of Erebus volcano with the US Antarctic Program. In 2005 the Royal Geographical Society presented him with the Murchison Award 'for publications enhancing the understanding of volcanic processes and impacts'. Dr Oppenheimer is a co-author with Peter Francis of a leading volcanology textbook and has contributed widely to television and film documentaries on volcanoes, including Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World and most recently, for Discovery, the History Channel, the BBC, Teachers' TV and National Geographic.
"I have to thank God on my knees that Oppenheimer's book did not exist at the time I made my decision to become a filmmaker. I might have become a volcanologist instead."
– Werner Herzog, film director and producer
"With his characteristic sparkling brilliance, Oppenheimer expertly recasts the latest scientific findings on how volcanoes work as a compelling and readable account that conveys the enduring human fascination for nature's fiery outbursts and their capacity to transform life on this planet."
– Professor Iain Stewart, geologist and BBC TV presenter
"In his explosive book, Clive Oppenheimer brilliantly shows how the history of volcanoes and people is a tangled account. From our earliest ancestors to travellers battling with the effects of ash clouds on airline flights, our evolutionary destiny has been played out in the shadow of volcanoes, often with disastrous results."
– Professor Clive Gamble, Royal Holloway, University of London
"This is forensic geology in the widest sense and an exciting guided tour of the major volcanic and climatic disasters experienced by human kind. Oppenheimer has a rare talent for bringing the science and history together in a clear and engaging way."
– Professor Michael Rampino, New York University
"Writing in his inimitably lively and witty style, Clive Oppenheimer takes us through deep time and deep into volcanoes, teaching us how they work and demonstrating how powerful eruptions have often jostled the human toehold on survival. This tour de force is an astonishingly provocative roadmap to the once and future history of Earth."
– Dr Dave Pieri, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
"A fascinating work that will engage not just volcano experts but also those with an interest in history, climatology, archaeology, and geochronology."
– Library Journal
"[Oppenheimer] tops them all with a new book, heavy on scientific detail and light on dramatic froth, chronicling eruptions that really did change the world [...] he thoughtfully makes his case that volcanoes and humankind have been intertwined throughout history, and will continue to be long after the next unpronounceable Icelandic volcano erupts."
"From just the first chapter, the genius of Clive Oppenheimer in the world of volcanology shines in his book [...] For any reader interested in learning more about volcanology, whether it be the history or the science behind it, Oppenheimer's book is a plethora of information [...] [his] passion and lifelong dedication to this subject is evident [...] It's a subject anyone could approach with caution because of the force that drives these monstrous mountains. However, Oppenheimer takes it dead-on, fearlessly and boldly, pouring his research into the text that derives from a childlike imagination into a man's ambition."
– Red Orbit
"[...] a useful reference for earth science students [...] Oppenheimer romps through the geological past, detailing some of the major volcanic events and their global impact [...] well worth diving into [...] he is upbeat, suggesting that a super-eruption could bring out the best in humanity, inspiring altruism and collective political action."
– Kate Ravilious, New Scientist
"Oppenheimer uses all sorts of evidence to unravel the stories behind some of the greatest and most significant volcanic cataclysms. The book is well illustrated [and] each chapter starts with a well-selected quote and ends with a useful summary [...] I recommend Eruptions that Shook the World as motivational reading for physics students looking for a thesis topic in Earth or environmental sciences. The book may encourage physicists to take up the fascinating but challenging mission of understanding the workings of deep Earth and the claims that are made for it."
– Physics Today
"[A] well-written book [...]"
– Environmental History