Unnatural Disasters: Case Studies of Human-Induced Environmental Catastrophes

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Unnatural Disasters: Case Studies of Human-Induced Environmental Catastrophes Angus M. Gunn Westport, CT:Greenwood Press, 2004. 143 pp. ISBN: 0-313-31999-5, $55 cloth.

This book was written as a sequel to an earlier volume by the same author on the impact of natural disasters, The Impact of Geology on the United States: A Reference Guide to Benefits and Hazards (Westport, CT:Greenwood Press, 2001). In this second volume, Angus M. Gunn provides an overview of human-made environmental disasters. He shows that although technology has given humankind enormous control over the environment, it has also proven to be a threat to our survival. Gunn categorizes these human-made disasters into a number of subtypes--for example, mining disasters, dam failures, government actions, industrial explosions, oil spills, nuclear energy catastrophes, and terrorism. For each of these types of disaster, the book contains 26 case examples describing the events that led up to the disaster, the technical details of the event itself, the cleanup it necessitated, and its consequences. Some of the examples described in the book are famous--for example, the Minimata mercury poisoning in Japan, the Buffalo Creek dam collapse in West Virginia, and the near accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. Others have been almost forgotten, such as the deliberately induced great famine in Ukraine in 1932, which resulted from the massive collectivization of farms ordered by Stalin.

The book is well written and successfully combines factual information with good journalism. Gunn professes to stick to the tried-and-true methods of the hard physical sciences. The consequence of this choice is that the book makes no reference to the societal and psychological impacts of disasters. …