When the Earth Shakes: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis
Simon Winchester, 2015
ISBN 067-07-853-69
80 p., $18,99
Viking Books for Young Readers

Aimed at a teenage audience, this book about disasters that “make the earth shake” is written by Simon Winchester, a New York Times best-selling author. Winchester is primarily known as a journalist—he worked for The Guardian for decades and covered the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the Watergate Scandal in the United States among many other events—but was originally trained as a geologist. At Oxford University, England, he became involved in the University Exploration Club, and was a member of a six-man sledding expedition onto an uncharted section of the East Greenland icecap in 1965. After finishing his degree he joined the Canadian mining company Falconbridge of Africa where he worked as a field geologist in Uganda.

When the Earth Shakes, is based on Winchester’s experiences as a geologist and as a journalist. He takes the reader on an exciting journey to places where he himself has gone to explore the wonders of geological forces and explains to his readers how earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis are inextricably intertwined.

Weaving together personal narrative, scientific knowledge, and history, Winchester explores infamous natural disasters that made the planet shake, explode and flood. From the 1883 volcano eruption on Krakatoa, Indonesia and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that destroyed 80 percent of the city, to the 21st century tsunamis that devastated Indonesia and Japan.

Winchester reminds his readers that all of these events are natural disasters and, however horrible, they are a normal part of the functioning of the planet Earth. He calls on them to be responsible custodians of the planetary resources and respect the way the planet itself operates. He ends with a warning: “We inhabit this planet subject to geological consent—which can be withdrawn at any time, and without notice.”

This book—richly illustrated with beautiful historical and contemporary photographs, maps, diagrams, and charts—might be written for 10 to 16 year-olds, but it is equally fascinating for any adult interested in the devastating and powerful natural forces that shape the earth.