Cover image for A history of civilization in 50 disasters
A history of civilization in 50 disasters

Physical Description:
xvi, 223 pages ; 24 cm.
Discusses the circumstances surrounding fifty disasters, from the Campanian Ignimbrite super-eruption in 37,000 BC to the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.


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Civilization rearranges nature for human convenience. Clothes and houses keep us warm; agriculture feeds us; medicine fights our diseases. It all works--most of the time. But key resources lie in the most hazardous places, so we choose to live on river flood plains, on the slopes of volcanoes, at the edge of the sea, above seismic faults. We pack ourselves into cities, Petri dishes for germs. Civilization thrives on the edge of disaster. And what happens when natural forces meet molasses holding tanks, insecticides, deepwater oil rigs, nuclear power plants? We learn the hard way how to avoid the last disaster--and maybe how to create the next one. What we don't know can, indeed, hurt us. This book's white-knuckled journey from antiquity to the present leads us to wonder at times how humankind has survived. And yet, as Author Gale Eaton makes clear, civilization has advanced not just in spite of disasters but in part because of them. Hats off to human resilience, ingenuity, and perseverance! They've carried us this far; may they continue to do so into our ever-hazardous future.The History in 50 series explores history by telling thematically linked stories. Each book includes 50 illustrated narrative accounts of people and events--some well-known, others often overlooked--that, together, build a rich connect the-dots mosaic and challenge conventional assumptions about how history unfolds.Dedicated to the premise that history is the greatest story ever told.Includes a mix of "greatest hits" with quirky, surprising, provocative accounts.Challenges readers to think and engage.Includes a glossary of technical terms; sources by chapter; teaching resources as jumping-off points for student research; and endnotes.Fountas & Pinnell Level Z+

Author Notes

A former children's librarian at the Boston Public Library and professor at the University of Rhode Island School of Library and information Studies Gale Eaton has spent a lifetime with books for children and young adults. She is author of Well--Dressed Role Models and The Education of Alice M. Jordan. She lives in Rhode Island.
Phillip Hoose is the acclaimed author of the National Book Award winner Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. He is also the author of the multi--award winning title, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, the National Book Award Finalist We Were There Too!: Young People in U.S. History, and the Christopher Award--winning manual for youth activism It's Our World Too!.

Reviews 3

Horn Book Review

This dense but engaging collection features contextualized narratives of fifty disasters that have changed civilizations, from volcanic eruptions in 37,000 B.C.E. to modern-day climate change. Filled with paintings, photographs, charts, maps, graphs, and in-depth sidebars detailing related issues, the book presents its content clearly and thoroughly, but it may have too much of a textbook tone for casual reading. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind. (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Kicking off the History in 50 series, this volume presents 50 stories about disasters that pitted "human civilization against the forces of nature." Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, droughts, diseases. "Our planet is a wild place," and Eaton explores 50 disasters caused at least in part by natural forces and examines what they reveal about civilization. A volcano may have contributed to the decline of the Neanderthals. The Black Death wiped out one-third of the population of Europe. The San Francisco earthquake left half the city's population homeless. The influenza pandemic of 1918 claimed as many as 50 million lives, more than the death toll of World War I. The stories, most two or three pages long and arranged chronologically, are related in clear and straightforward prose, supported by photographs, maps, charts, and reproductions of artwork through the ages. Lest readers get preoccupied by body counts and deciding which disaster was the worst, the real lessons to be derived are discussed in a brief conclusion. What's most important is how people responded to the disasters: some people became heroes, some organized relief efforts, some looted, some blamed others, and some got to work trying to prevent future disasters. Though extensive backmatter is included, the many books available for young readers on some of the topics are not included. A fascinating volume especially suited for browsing. (glossary, sources and additional resources, endnotes, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

This attractive volume in the new History in 50 series, edited by award-winning author Phillip Hoose, delivers on the promise of its title: it traces the history of civilization via natural disasters, beginning in 37,000 BCE and concluding with a disaster in the making: climate change in the twenty-first century. The scope of the book, which affords each disaster a separate, if brief, chapter, is global in nature, ranging from the Western Hemisphere (smallpox) to San Francisco (the famous earthquake), and from the Minoan civilization to the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Whether giant or (relatively) small, these calamities have in common a devastating, life-changing impact on history's ongoing evolution. Nicely illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs, the book, which invites browsing, includes quirky sidebar features (e.g., Ridiculous Tip for Starving Peasants) and concludes with generous back matter. An enjoyable and intriguing way to introduce readers reluctant and otherwise to the often troublesome history of their world.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2016 Booklist

Table of Contents

Phillip Hoose
Presenting the HISTORY IN 50 Seriesp. ix
Introductionp. xi
1 37,000 BC: Neanderthals and the Campanian Ignimbrite Eruptionp. 1
How Do Scientists Study Prehistoric Disasters?p. 3
The Youngest Toba Tuff Eruptionp. 4
Anatomically Modern Humans and Neanderthalsp. 4
2 1600 BC: Eruption at Santorini Undermines Minoan Civilizationp. 5
3 AD 64: Emperor Nero Blames Great Fire on Unpopular Cultp. 8
Anthropogenic Disastersp. 10
4 AD 79: Vesuvius Buries Pompeii and Herculaneump. 11
Carbon Dioxide from Volcanoesp. 14
5 536: The Case of the Mysterious Ashp. 15
The Mystery Eruption of 1257p. 17
6 541: Justinian's Plague Weakens the Byzantine Empirep. 18
The Decline of the Byzantine Empire after Justinianp. 20
7 1287: St. Lucia's Flood Creates a New Seap. 21
Peatp. 24
8 1315-1317: Great Famine Starves Northwestern Europep. 25
Medieval Drinking Waterp. 27
Medieval Climate Changep. 27
9 1348-1353: The Black Death Depopulates Europep. 28
The Black Death Gets Its Namep. 30
1665: Bubonic Plague Takes a Last Swipe at Londonp. 31
10 1450: Little Ice Age Empties a Viking Colonyp. 32
The Roanoke Colonyp. 34
What If the Norse Had Settled North America?p. 34
11 1507-1537: Smallpox Conquers the Western Hemispherep. 35
12 1556: Deadliest Earthquake Ever Levels Shaanxip. 38
Measuring Earthquakesp. 39
13 1600: Huaynaputina Erupts in Perup. 40
A New Response to Volcanoes: Engineeringp. 41
14 1616-1619: Epidemic Readies Massachusetts for English Settlementp. 42
15 1666: The Great Fire of London-Papist Plot Burns Out the Plague?p. 44
16 1755: Earthquake in Lishon Shakes Europe's Philosophersp. 47
1755 Cape Ann Earthquakep. 49
17 1815: Mt. Tamhora Takes More Lives Than the Battle of Waterloop. 50
18 1817: Colonialism Helps Cholera Go Globalp. 53
Cholera Riots and the Burke and Hare Murdersp. 55
19 1845-1852: The Irish Potato Famine Sows Bitterness and Distrustp. 56
Ridiculous Tip for Starving Peasantsp. 58
20 1871: Irish Poor Blamed for Burning of Dry, Windy Chicagop. 59
Other Fires on October 8, 1871p. 61
21 1878: Yellow Fever in the American Southp. 62
22 1883: Eruption of Krakatoa Drives Scientific Advance and Colonial Discordp. 64
23 1887: The Yellow River Floodsp. 67
Conflicts of Interestp. 68
24 1899: The Honolulu Board of Health Burns Out Bubonic Plaguep. 69
Plague in San Francisco, 1900p. 71
25 1902: Mt. Pelée Buries a Cityp. 72
26 1906: San Francisco Shakes and Burnsp. 76
27 1908: Tunguska Asteroid Levels Forest in Siberiap. 79
Impact Events and the End of the Dinosaursp. 82
28 1918: Influenza Kills More Than World War Ip. 83
29 1919: The Great Molasses Flood Blamed on Anarchistsp. 85
Molasses Spill in Honolulu Harborp. 87
30 1923: Kanto Earthquake Flattens Tokyo and Yokohama; Koreans Massacredp. 88
31 1938: Unpredicted Hurricane Batters New Englandp. 90
What Makes a Storm a Disaster?p. 92
32 1952: Killer Smog Shrouds Londonp. 93
The Trouble with Burning Coalp. 95
33 1968-1985: Drought in the Sahel Starves Sub-Saharan Africap. 96
The Dust Bowl 98 El Ninop. 98
34 1970-1975: Smallpox Eradicated in Bangladeshp. 100
35 1976: Earthquake Wipes Out Chinese City of Tangshan as Mao Lies Dyingp. 102
An Ancient Seismographp. 103
36 1981: Mystery Disease, AIDS, Becomes a Dreaded Pandemicp. 105
The Venda Resist AIDS Educationp. 107
37 1984: Leak from Insecticide Factory Poisons City of Bhopalp. 108
38 1985: Nevado del Ruiz Eruption Buries Town of Armero on International TVp. 110
The 2014 Oso Mudslidep. 112
39 1986: Meltdown at Chernobyl Nuclear Facility Leaves Dead Zone in Ukrainep. 113
The Worst U.S. Nuclear Accident: Three Mile Island, Pennsylvaniap. 116
40 1993: Arsenic in Bengali Drinking Waterp. 117
The 2014 West Virginia Chemical Leakp. 119
41 1996-2014: Nigerians Resist a Polio Eradication Campaignp. 120
42 1997: Southeast Asian Hazep. 123
Restoring a Forest in Borneop. 125
43 2003: Was the Lethal European Heat Wave Caused by Climate Change?p. 127
Counting Excess Deaths in the 1995 Chicago Heat Wavep. 129
44 2004: Indonesian Earthquake and Tsunami Trigger International Relief Effortp. 130
The Hyogo Framework for Actionp. 132
45 2005: Hurricane Katrina Swamps the U.S. Gulf Coastp. 133
FEMA Trailers and Formaldehyde Poisoningp. 135
46 2010: Earthquake Meets Poverty in Port-au-Prince, Haitip. 136
The Haitian Cholera Epidemic and Donor Fatiguep. 138
47 2010: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Threatens Gulf of Mexico and Atlanticp. 139
48 2011: Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Batter Fukushima Nuclear Reactorsp. 142
Japanese Couragep. 144
49 2014: Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Erupts in West Africap. 145
Ebola Concerns in the United Statesp. 147
50 Disaster in the Making: Anthropogenic Climate Change in the Twenty-First Centuryp. 148
Working for International Cooperationp. 150
Could a Microbe Trigger Rapid Global Warming and Mass Extinctions?p. 150
Conclusionp. 151
Glossaryp. 153
Sources and Additional Resourcesp. 159
Endnotesp. 195
Indexp. 215
Author and Series Editor Biographiesp. 223