Earth not as solid as it seems

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

"Agents of Chaos" by Stephen L. Harris (Mountain Press Publishing Co., paper, 260 pp., bibliography, glossary, $14.)

Readers who want to know when and where "the big one" might hit should read "Agents of Chaos," an excellent new book subtitled "Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Other Natural Disasters."

From the mysterious New Madrid quakes that shook half of America in 1811-1812 to tidewater glaciers in Glacier Bay and hot spots in Hawaii, author Stephen Harris ably covers the interesting terrain of things that go bump in the night or blow their top and alarm humans. Harris can segue from the Holocene to Mount St. Helens or from the Ice Age to Arizona without losing the reader in jargon, facts or figures. He even gets in a few final licks about how homeowners who live close to faults can brace their homes.

Alaskans will find much about state phenomena, including discussions of the 1964 Anchorage-area quake, Katmai National Park, Glacier Bay, eruptions in the Aleutian Chain, and Aniakchak's collapse on the Alaska Peninsula 3,400 years ago. All is put into the perspective of the Pacific "ring of fire."

Excellent black and white photos, maps, diagrams, and cross-section drawings help to illustrate various kinds of lava, movement, eruptions, faults, hazard zones, demolition and damage associated with earthquakes and volcanoes.

"Americans must learn to view their earth in geologic terms, recognizing that both our ocean floors and continents are in virtually constant movement...," Harris writes. "These shocks to human complacency...remind us that our planet, with its incandescent interior and thin, ever-shifting crust, pulsates like a living organism. As mere passengers on an evolving globe, we ignore its irregular movements at our peril."

Mountain Press Publishing is the creator of the "roadside geology" series, which now contains 19 volumes, as well as books on rockhounding and geology underfoot. Its books are clearly written and reasonably priced - superior reference books for home and public libraries.

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