Vulcan's Fury

Man Against the Volcano
Scarth, Alwyn
Date published: 
June 1999

Volcanic eruptions are the most spectacular displays of the natural world. They also present humanity with devastating environmental disasters. This enthralling book describes fifteen of the most remarkable volcanic eruptions across the centuries along with first-hand accounts of the different ways people reacted to them.

In 79 A.D. Vesuvius produced the most violent eruption recorded in European history. The eruption of Etna in 1669 marked the first known attempt to divert lava-flow. In 1783, the eruption of Laki indirectly killed a fifth of the Icelandic population and sent a blue haze over Europe. The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 drowned most of its victims and destroyed much of the island as well. In 1980 Mount St. Helens produced a new type of eruption and scythed down a majestic forest. Alwyn Scarth explores these and other eruptions, reconstructing the physical experience of the eruption, its origins, explosion and aftermath, and interpreting (and in many cases translating) eye-witness accounts that bring their own vividness to the unfolding dramas. The accounts tell of fear, panic, miscalculations and inefficiency as well as organisation, self-sacrifices, religious fervour and heroism, revealing how each affected population handled -or mishandled - its crisis. Scarth's riveting survey shows that technology and volcanic surveillance have made enormous strides during the present century. But volcanoes remain indomitable: no one has yet learned how an eruption can be stopped.