When it comes to natural disasters, the question is not so much “if” but “when.” In certain areas of the world, rivers will continue to flood, earthquakes will continue to shake the earth, and volcanoes will continue to erupt. Anyone living in these areas exists in an uneasy truce with nature, always wondering when the next disaster will strike. In her fascinating study, The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do about Them), seismologist Lucy Jones examines 11 of history’s most destructive natural events, from the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and the floods in Sacramento in 1861-1862 to the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and the great 1927 flood in Mississippi, to reveal what we can learn from them.
As Jones points out so astutely, humans label earthquakes and other natural activities “disasters” because of their effects on human lives, yet such events are simply a fluctuation in the natural environment necessary for the support of life. While many cultures have found ways to be resilient—even returning to the scene of a disaster to rebuild—she offers advice about living in areas prone to natural disasters (though any area, she counsels, could experience them): “Don’t assume government has you covered,” “work with your community,” “remember that disasters are more than the moment at which they happen.”
Jones’ fascinating book takes a long view at natural events in order to help us understand our environment and to prepare for and survive natural disasters.