A New View of Earthquake Hazards in the New Madrid Seismic Zone
In the winter of 1811-12, a series of large earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone-often incorrectly described as the biggest ever to hit the United States-shook the Midwest. Today the federal government ranks the hazard in the Midwest as high as California's and is pressuring communities to undertake expensive preparations for disaster.
Coinciding with the two-hundredth anniversary of the New Madrid earthquakes, Disaster Deferred revisits these earthquakes, the legends that have grown around them, and the predictions of doom that have followed in their wake. Seth Stein clearly explains the techniques seismologists use to study Midwestern quakes and estimate their danger. Detailing how limited scientific knowledge, bureaucratic instincts, and the media's love of a good story have exaggerated these hazards, Stein calmly debunks the hype surrounding such predictions and encourages the formulation of more sensible, less costly policy. Powered by insider knowledge and an engaging style, Disaster Deferred shows how new geological ideas and data, including those from the Global Positioning System, are painting a very different-and much less frightening-picture of the future.
'Sacred cows make the best hamburger,' as the saying goes. In Disaster Deferred, Seth Stein takes on one of the sacred cows of geology-the story of the Midwest's New Madrid fault-and argues that estimates of earthquake risk along the fault have been greatly exaggerated. Along the way, Stein gives readers a taste of what it is like to do science. He tells his tale with care, passion, and the kind of humor that seems just right for a geologistcrusty and bluff.
Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
Seth Stein's book is fun to read and has a compelling story to tell. There is no book quite like it out there.
Stephen Marshak, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Seth Stein thoughtfully recognizes the painful decisions that various politicians and emergency managers must make, and he provides realistic descriptions of various types of bureaucracies and scientific specialties, without rancor. A must-read for all involved in such issues.
Orrin Pilkey, Duke University, author of Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future
A great book about real science and policy issues that is a lot of fun to read. Seth Stein has done a great job of telling the story of the New Madrid Seismic Zone and its near-mythic status within the science community, without rancor and without being overly critical of the parties to this fascinating story. Well done all around.
Timothy H. Dixon, University of Miami
Stein has done a masterful job of explaining the historical events of New Madrid in 1811 and 1812 and the science behind the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) as it is analyzed today. He effectively challenges the claims and mystique about the NMSZ. This is a much needed, honest, and frank book about earthquakes and seismic policy. It tells the inside story about science, the people in this science, the history of seismology, science in government, and public policy and does so with humor, personal anecdotes, and good examples. An excellent reference book and very readable. As a geologist from a state that borders the NMSZ, I would recommend this book to anyone in government or public policy who deals with these issues.
James C. Cobb, director and state geologist, Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky
A lot of books are written about disasters and potential disasters. Seth Stein's new book Disaster Deferred, is a different kind of book, which uses new scientific results to demonstrate that the dangers of a large earthquake in the Midwest are greatly overestimated. Seth writes in a highly entertaining style, and I frequently found myself laughing out loud. However, the facts are deadly serious and based on the latest results in earthquake science. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in earthquakes and their potential impact on society in North America.
Engaging, feisty in places, humorous and philosophical, highly educational, and loaded with common sense--an exceptional read.... An essential book for policy makers, economists, and notably educators.
Read the chapter 1 of Disaster Deferred, "Threshold" (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner):