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Earth-Shattering Events

Earthquakes, Nations and Civilization

Andrew Robinson

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A groundbreaking survey of the cultural, political and social impacts of major earthquakes of the modern era


From antiquity until the present day, on every continent, human beings have made a Faustian bargain with the risk of periodic devastation by earthquake. Today around half of the world’s largest cities – as many as 60 – lie in areas of major seismic activity. Each earthquake-struck society offers its own particular lesson; and yet, taken together, such earth-shattering events have important shared consequences for the world.

This book seeks to understand exactly how human agency and great earthquakes have interacted, not only in the short term but also in the long perspective of history. For over the long term, the impact of a great earthquake depends not only on the chance factors of its epicentre, magnitude and timing, but also on human factors: the political, economic, social, intellectual, religious and cultural resources specific to a region’s history. While physical devastation has in some times and places led to permanent decline and collapse, elsewhere earthquakes have presented opportunities for renewal, the cities they destroy proving to be extraordinarily resilient. After its wholesale destruction by an earthquake and fire in 1906, San Francisco went on to flourish, giving birth in the 1950s to the high-tech industrial area on the San Andreas fault now known as Silicon Valley.

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'Robinson has a talent for evoking chaos and, unavoidably, his brain-melting descriptions have a disaster-movie quality - it's hard to tear your eye away from the page '
Daily Telegraph

'An enlightening read [that] places earthquakes into proper historical perspective. Robinson captures the reader’s attention [and] the chronological organization of Earth-Shattering Events allows the reader to easily follow the evolution of our understanding of earthquakes'

'Individually, these case studies make vivid reading, and collectively they tell a fascinating story about how seismology developed as a science'
Physics World

'A truly welcome, and refreshing, study that puts earthquake impact on history into a proper perspective'
Amos Nur, author of Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology and the Wrath of God

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Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Publication date: 9 May 2016

ISBN: 9780500518595

Contents List

Introduction: Earthquakes and History • 1. Earthquakes Before Seismology • 2. The Year of Earthquakes: London, 1750 • 3. The Wrath of God: Lisbon, 1755 • 4. The Birth of Nations: Caracas, 1812 5. Seismology Begins: Naples, 1857 • 6. Elastic Rebound: San Francisco, 1906 • 7. Holocaust in Japan: Tokyo and Yokohama, 1923 • 8. Birth Pang of a New China: Tangshan, 1976 • 9. Grief and Growth in the Land of Gandhi: Gujarat, 2001 10. War and Peace by Tsunami: The Indian Ocean, 2004 • 11. Meltdown and After: Fukushima, 2011 • Conclusion: Earthquakes, Nations and Civilization

About the Author

Andrew Robinson is the author of twenty-five books in the arts and sciences, nine of them on aspects of Indian history and culture. They include two definitive biographies: Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, described by V. S. Naipaul as ‘an extraordinarily good, detailed and selfless book’, and the coauthored Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. He holds degrees from Oxford University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, has been a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and is currently a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society.