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    I would always like to be near craters, drunk with fire, gas, my face burned by the heat.  It's not
    that I flirt with my death, but at this point I don't care about it, because there is the pleasure of
    approaching the beast and not knowing what is going to catch you.
           -Katia Krafft, volcanologist

    The main body of the pyroclastic flow hugged the Mizunashi, but a glowing ash cloud--reaching
    840 degrees F--engulfed Maurice, Katia, Harry and the nearby journalists and drivers.  The Kraffts,
    Glicken, and many of the journalists were killed in seconds, their lungs scorched and robbed of air
    by plugs of ash and mucous, their bodies flash-burned by the heat.
           -Stanley Williams and Fen Montaigne, Surviving Galeras

It's easy enough to see why this book set off a bidding war among publishers anxious to print what seems sure to be a bestseller.  Stanley Williams is a volcanologist who in 1993 was nearly killed in an eruption on the slopes of the active volcano Galeras in Colombia, an event which did kill several of his fellow geologists and a few local sightseers.  As Williams lay on the ground, one leg nearly severed and his skull fractured after being pelted by flying rubble, two female colleagues led the effort to rescue him.  In addition to telling the story of his near death and rehabilitation, offers a fairly thorough look at the natural history of volcanoes, the history of volcanology, and the state of the science.  Williams also warns of the potentially devastating impact that a major eruption might have, particularly because population pressures have moved large numbers of people into ever closer proximity to active volcanoes.    It's a blend of rousing adventure and popular science that has become familiar in such books as The Perfect Storm, Longitude, Into Thin Air, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, The Last River, and many other recent books.

Surviving Galeras is at least as good as most of these rivals, in fact, the volcanology is interesting enough to make it worthwhile reading even without the obligatory "tragedy."  I'm of the opinion that by now these self inflicted tragedies have worn themselves fairly thin.  Stanley Williams estimates that there about 300 serious volcanologists in the world and in the past twenty one years (1979 to 2000) twenty three have been killed by volcanic activity.  I've nothing like the background necessary to criticize the methods used by Williams and others, but of this I am certain, you could get most of the measurements that they are getting by walking around these craters if you used passive instrumentation or some kind of remote controlled devices.  This is after all the approach used on the Moon and Mars and elsewhere.  From what I gather, all they are really doing up there is measuring seismic activity, gravitational and magnetic forces, and the chemical composition of gas releases.  It simply doesn't seem imperative that a geologist be squatting there with a vapor hood capturing fumes when a remote control car (obviously you'd have to do some reengineering on it; I'm aware that you couldn't just use one you picked up in the toy section at K-Mart) could do the job equally well and much more safely.

Instead, the strong suggestion given off by this book is that it is a matter of machismo and lifestyle for volcanologists to do their work on site.  Thus, Williams says :

    There are geologists, and then there are volcanologists.  Only a few hundred scientists work on
    active volcanoes worldwide, and we share a strong esprit de corps.  Within this community there
    are those who study dead volcanoes and those who climb on living volcanoes.  My colleagues
    who've never set foot on an active volcano have made great contributions, but the best work, I
    believe, comes from those of us who walk into the crater.

Well, I suppose that could be true, but I bet there are perfectly competent geologists, who never leave the lab, who could just look at the measurements that are gathered from these sites and produce equally useful theories about what's going on.  The real point of being a volcanologist seems to be entangled as much with the great field trips and the bravado of the work as with the underlying science.  And that's fine, but it does take some of the edge off of the tragedy to realize that in a genuine sense it need not have happened, absent the scientists search for thrills.

This is a book to be enjoyed much more for the quite fascinating science and scientific history it contains than for the by now routine adventure tale, which is sure to be its major selling point on the book promotion circuit.  As these stories pile on top of each other, and on top of us poor readers, I find myself losing patience with the folks who take these risks.  Stanley Williams has a really interesting story to tell--and with the help of coauthor Fen Montaigne he tells it very well--but it's the story of volcanoes themselves, much more than it is the story of how he nearly got himself killed on the side of one.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B-)

  

Websites:

See also:

Science
Book-related and General Links:
    -Stanley N. Williams : Volcanological Research (Arizona State University)
    -Stanley N. Williams : Curriculum Vita
    -ABSTRACT : Fluxes and sources of volatiles discharged from Kudryavy, a subduction zone volcano, Kurile Islands  (Tobias P. Fischera,, Werner F. Giggenbach, Yuji Sanoc and   Stanley N. Williams, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 160, p. 81-96 (1998)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Stanley Williams, a vulcanologist at Arizona State University and a visiting professor at the University of Calgary in Alberta. As the Soufriere Hills volcano threatens to erupt on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, threatening thousands of residents, they discuss the level of volcanic activity around the United States and what dangers US volcanoes pose (All Things Considered, NPR)
    -PROFILE : Eruption: A Survivor's Tale : Data collected by volcano scientist Stanley Williams during an unexpected eruption may help predict future blasts and save lives. (Ben P. Stein, Scholastic)
    -PROFILE : When volcanoes blow : Beloit College alumnus researches warning signs (Chris Terry, Beloit Daily News)
    -ESSAY : And here is the Eruption Forecast :  Volcanoes are dangerously unpredictable killers - especially for the people who study them. A new  generation of instruments should make eruptions easier to predict . (Daniel Pendick, New Scientist)
    -ESSAY : Researchers' Deaths Inspire Actions To Improve Safety (Ricki Lewis, The Scientist, October 1997)
    -ESSAY : Predicting the Blast (Steve Koppes, ASU Research)
    -ESSAY : A Safer Way to Monitor Volcanoes? World's Scientists Finding an Answer (National Science Foundation)
    -ESSAY : Flocking to the Eruption : Volcano in NH offers glimpse inside the crater (Mike Recht, AP)
    -ESSAY : Vulnerable to Volcanoes : Hot rocks + hot gas = danger (Why Files)
    -The Global Volcanism Program (GVP) seeks better understanding of all volcanoes through documenting their eruptions
    -REVIEW : of Surviving Galeras  By STANLEY WILLIAMS and FEN MONTAIGNE (TIM
WEINER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : Volcano wars :  Nine scientists met grisly deaths in a 1993 eruption in Colombia, but the battle over who was to blame rages on. (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of 'No Apparent Danger' by Victoria Bruce and 'Surviving Galeras' by Stanley Williams and Fen Montaigne  (Valerie Jablow, Washington Post)
 

FEN MONTAIGNE :
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Reeling in Russia By Fen Montaigne
    -ESSAY : Deporting America's Gang culture.(Fen Montaigne, Mother Jones, July, 1999)
    -ESSAY : An end to the game :  Poaching is a way of life in Russia -- and a sad reminder of our own mistakes. (Fen Montaigne, Environmental News Network)
    -ESSAY :  There goes the Neighborhood! :  Atlanta is the hottest city in the New South, with its population doubling in the past 30 years. But to make room for new suburbs, 50 acres of forest are felled every day. Can anything stop the sprawl?  (Fen Montaigne, Audubon)
    -ARCHIVES : Results for: "fen montaigne" (National Geographic)
    -ESSAY : Remote Russia : An expedition seeks Siberia's wild heart (Fen Montaigne, National Geographic)
    -ESSAY : Iran Testing the Waters of Reform (Fen Montaigne, National Geographic)
    -ARTICLE : N.J. man gives Russia historic help : When Russia finishes its constitution, an American can take some credit.  (Fen Montaigne, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 21, 1991)
    -ARTICLE : A gold mine in Montana is a lode of controversy (Fen Montaigne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -ESSAY : Doing right by the bay (Fen Montaigne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -ARTICLE : Snow geese population reaches new highs (Fen Montaigne, Knight-Ridder Newspapers)
    -ARTICLE : In Pennsylvania, subsistence hunters work hard for their kill  (Fen Montaigne, Knight-Ridder Newspapers)
    -ARTICLE : JURY CONVICTS BECKWITH OF 1963 EVERS MURDER (Fen Montaigne, Knight-Ridder Newspapers February 6, 1994)
    -REVIEW : of Kapitalizm : Russia Struggles to Free Its Economy by Rose Brady (Fen Montaigne, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "fen montaigne" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of Reeling in Russia by Fen Montaigne (Adam Hochschild, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Reeling in Russia by Fen Montaigne (Martha Brill Olcott, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW : of Reeling in Russia (John Dolan, the eXile)
    -REVIEW : of Reeling in Russia (Hal Espen, Outside Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of Reeling in Russia (DB, Fly Anglers Online)
    -REVIEW : of Hooked - Fly Fishing Through Russia by Fen Montaigne (Fish & Fly)
    -BOOK LIST : From Harley dads to first-time fathers, a book for every taste (Jamie Allen, CNN Interactive)
 

VOLCANOES :
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : Your search: volcano
    -USGS : Cascades Volcano Observatory
    -LINKS : CVO's BIG-List :  Volcano and Earth-Science-Oriented Websites and related topics
    -LINKS : (Technology Review)
    -Volcano World : The Web's Premier Source of Volcano Info
    -Volcano Web
    -World Organization of Volcano Observatories
    -The Government of Montserrat and the  Montserrat Volcano Observatory
    -Web site for the NOVA program,  "Deadly Shadow of Vesuvius" (PBS)
    -ESSAY : Burning clouds :  What happens inside the searing maelstroms of gas and ash that spew from the world's most destructive volcanoes? . (Mike Branney and Jan Zalasiewicz, New Scientist)
    -ESSAY :  Under the Volcano : Deaths rattle one of the riskiest disciplines in science (RICHARD MONASTERSKY, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -ESSAY : Volcano Lovers (Why Files)
    -ESSAY : Under the Volcano (Peter Tyson, Technology Review)
    -ESSAY : Under the Volcano (Jack McClintock, Discover)
    -ESSAY : Volcanoes : On the Edge of an Eruption (Gloria Chang, Discovery Channel)
    -ESSAY : Into the Inferno : Smelling the Brimstone from a Chilean Volcano (Erik Olsen/ABCNEWS.com)
    -ESSAY : RESTIVE WARRIOR : AFTER 70 YEARS, POPOCATEPETL IS STIRRING. HOW SERIOUSLY? COUNTLESS LIVES DEPEND ON THE ANSWER (TIM PADGETT/MEXICO CITY, TIME, April 1997)
    -ESSAY : VOLCANOES WITH AN ATTITUDE : EVEN AS MAKE-BELIEVE MOUNTAINS ERUPT ON MOVIE SCREENS, 550 REAL PEAKS CONTINUE TO SMOLDER WORLDWIDE (JEFFREY KLUGER , TIME, FEBRUARY 24, 1997)
    -ESSAY : QUEST FOR A FABLED ANCIENT LIBRARY  (Shirley Hazzard, NY Times, May 10, 1987)
    -REVIEW : of VOLCANO WEATHER The Story of 1816, the Year Without a Summer. By Henry Stommel and Elizabeth Stommel (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Volcanoes Crucibles of Change. By Richard V. Fisher, Grant Heiken and Jeffrey B. Hulen (William J. Broad, NY Times Book Review)

Comments:

I just hope that Stanley Williams has the humanity to pass on his $$$ windfall from this book to the widows and families of those he led to their deaths. He is a self-centred fraud, have a read of Victoria Bruce's "No Apparent Danger". Now there is the true story of the events on Galeras that tragic day.

- David Banks

- Sep-27-2004, 07:19

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This book is a lie! the author doesn't know what he is talking about! I know this as I have since read a book by Victoria Bruce, called No Apparent Danger, that tells the truth about what really happened at Galleras and also Nevado Del Ruiz. My advice to everyone is dont buy this book! Luv Paul (aged 19)

- Paul Stephenson

- Feb-03-2004, 15:25

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