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Hardcover Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science Book

ISBN: 0312208812

ISBN13: 9780312208813

Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science

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Book Overview

Twenty years ago, Mt. St. Helens, in Washington State, "blew." It was the volcano's first eruption in recorded time, although as early as 1978 a team of scientists from the US Geological Survey had labeled it "the most dangerous volcano in the Cascade Range." In June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed forth its own mix of ash, gases, mud, lava, and all the other debris that had been building within the mountain for centuries. Between those...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Great book, even for geologists!

Volcano Cowboys is an excellent book about the real people behind the science. If you are looking for a book about how volcanoes form - this is not it, but it you are looking for a book about how real science is done read Volcano Cowboys!! These guys aren't the stereotypical geeky scientists we often picture sequestered in labs and pale-skinned from lack of sunlight. This is what field geology is all about - getting your feet dirty (and your pants and shirt and hands and hair)! This book is also a candid view of the politics involved in science and also the fact that volcanology, like all science, is a work-in-progress. No, we don't know everything there is to know about how volcanoes work - and that is what makes geology so very exciting!My one disappointment with the book were the pictures/figures. I want to see a diagram of Mt. St. Helens after the eruption to compare with the nice diagram of "before"!!! The photos are also a little hard to see in the paperback version.

A Fascinating Inside Look at the Evolution of Volcanology

This book is a fascinating look into the world of the USGS volcanologists and the progress made in the science of volcanology through the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens, Nevado Del Ruiz, and Pinotubo. The most interesting part of this book however, was not just the science, but the inside workings of the USGS and how politics, power, and money have influenced research on active volcanoes.Dick Thompson did a great job of bringing the reader inside the heads of the various scientists as they struggled with interpreting the data they were receiving on each volcano. Through the fiasco of the non-eruption at Mono Lakes, the failure to save lives at Nevado Del Ruiz and their ultimate success in accurately predicting the eruption at Mt. Pinotubo in the Philippines, the volcanologists of the USGS learned to respond to volcano crises around the world. One chapter, which Thompson has entitled "They'll Think You're A Hero," sums up the pressures these volcanologists were under to accurately predict what Pinatubo would do next. If the volcano erupts as predicted they all become heroes, but if not, they lose their credibility and thousands of lives are needlessly disrupted.I have read many books on volcanoes and their eruptions but this book clarified aspects of eruptions and the difficulties in interpreting data being collected from an active volcano. It also clarified the difficulties in bringing various methods of observation together to form one cohesive picture of a pending eruption. Dick Thompson also captured the humor of these volcanologists in stressful situations which brought the book to life.Overall, this was an entertaining, insightful look at the science of volcanology. I couldn't put it down.

exciting vulcanology lesson for the non-expert

Who knew volcanos could be so interesting and exciting? This traces the development of vulcanology in the US from the 1980 erruption of Mt. St. Helens through the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Phillipines in 1990s. Fast paced, suspenseful, technical but accessable. Now you can discuss pyroclastic flows with confidence. My only complaint is that the photos were insufficient (too few, quality not great). Still, you can go to USGS websites and download thousands. I rented Dante's Peak while reading the St. Helens section and was surprised to find a lot of the book in the movie. It made a wannabe vulcanologist out of me.

Learning to Predict the Timing and Nature of Eruptions

Prior to the increased seismic activity and later eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, U.S. volcanology focused on the study of long extinct volcanoes and the monitoring of the generally slow evolution of the shield volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii (Moana Loa and Kilauea). Nothing in this experience led anyone in the U.S. Geological Survey to think they could forecast eruptions.Mount Saint Helens became a living laboratory for just that problem because many people lived and worked near this volcano. Early on, the geologists correctly perceived that Mount St. Helens was likely to create an explosive eruption (with even as much force as created Crater Lake). Unfortunately, the science and the process of keeping people out of harm's way did not develop fast enough. Despite warnings of the danger, many people voluntarily stayed in the area and were killed in the eruption.Through a series of unsuccessful (Mammoth Lakes and Armero) experiences, the geologists determined that a rapid response team was needed that could quickly ascertain the risk, communicate the danger, and stimulate the authorities to take appropriate action. All of these insights came together in the successful handling of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Phillippines that menaced the U.S. Clark Air Base and a large population. The book is exciting in its focus on placing you in the shoes of the geologists who are trying to figure out when an eruption might occur, and how to get someone to pay attention to them. We owe these brave people a large debt of gratitude for the risks they routinely take on our behalf and the inconveniences they suffer (both from the elements and from the U.S. government's bureaucracy). Beyond that, we owe gratitude as well to those who have fallen in their pursuit of this important endeavor. Because of their sacrifices, millions will be saved in the future. I hope we are wise enough to build on their foundation to expand and improve on this work. At another level, you will learn some more geology if you like that dynamic science. At a higher level, you will get insights into learning. Measurements are critical, and different volanoes require different measurments and interpretations. It is like treating a new veterinary species each time you take on one of these challenges. You are taken through the developing thought processes, and can take your own guesses about what might happen next (unless you just happen to remember the details).The book also contains many wonderful photographs from the eruptions. At key moments, Mount Pinatubo was giving off the same energy as a Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb every few seconds. Debris from the volcano would reach 80,000 feet and foul airplane engines in just a few seconds as well. The author deserves lots of credit for this book. Mr. Thompson has found a fascinating subject and made it compelling. He has taught us about the details without bogging us down in unnecessary information. He has k

Really a Winner

This is a first-rate book -- interesting subject matter, exciting tales well told, and an extremely well-informed easy-to-grasp look at modern volcanology.The book follows the adventures of a dozen or so United States Geological Survey geologists (the "volcano cowboys") from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, focusing on two major episodes -- the Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980 and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.Mr. Thomspon, a long-time science correspondent for Time Magazine, has really done it right. The stories and travails of the researchers are related in an interesting and intimate manner, but never mined for soap opera or cheap drama. The power of volcanic eruptions is made vividly clear (I've been a lifelong geo buff, but I had no idea). And Mr. Thompson has a particuar flair for explaining complete scientific matters with such grace and economy that you hardly notice that you're absorbing technical material. He knows precisely how much detail to leave out for the general audience -- his perfect two-sentence description of why geologist study road cuts (bottom of page 294) should be studied by every science writer.This is not a book that will satisfy someone looking for extremely fine-grained detail on volcanology, but presumably if you are looking for information on mathematical modelling of particle-size interaction in pyroclastic flows, you'll go to the scientific literature. As someone who knows a fair amount about geology, but didn't know much about volcanoes, I was entirely satisfied. My only gripe -- I would have loved a list of further reading & resources. This book left me hungry for more info!I also thought it had just enough info on the political context of volcanology -- the explanation of how and why the USGS fouled up an attempt at eruption prediction near Mammoth Lakes, Californa was a great little tale. Once again, Thompson gives you enough, but not too much. This book is the work of an extremely talented writer with a great sense of balance and control.
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