Earthquakes

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Ever felt a tinge of curiosity about earthquakes? This book is not for you. Ever had a moderate but perhaps spasmodic interest in earthquakes? This book is not for you either. Ever had such an insatiable lust for hard information on earthquakes that you salivate whenever anyone even mentions a Benioff variable-reluctance seismometer? OK, relax, this book just might help.

Earthquakes is a revised, updated version of a serious book by an expert New Zealand author that includes more than you ever imagined there was to know about seismology. The 22 chapters cover earthquake recording, causes and distribution, tsunamis and volcanoes, prediction, zoning, insurance, buildings, ‘earthquakes and the bomb’, moonquakes, famous earthquakes and much, much more.

Along the way there is plenty of general geology in concise and digestible form, but some of the more specialised seismology chapters ( e.g. Chapter 4, Reading the Records) require sustained concentration.

The author’s style is not the unrelieved, cold, impersonal and impenetrable stodge of scientists — it’s absorbing, lively, even amusing in places.

The book is thoroughly illustrated with diagrams and photographs, but, alas, all are in black and white. The arresting cover photos of the 1987 Edgecumbe earthquake left me disappointed when I delved inside.

With reader interest in earthquakes activated in the wake of the recent San Francisco shakes, Eiby’s discussion of the behaviour of buildings and structures during earthquakes makes informative and timely reading. We learn about the relative effects of resonance and inertia on different types of building, and practical steps that can be taken to safeguard the contents of the home in the event of a tremor.

Although the treatment is global in outlook, there is a pronounced New Zealand tilt, with a number of maps, illustrations and photographs giving infor­mation on such topics as the Alpine Fault, earth­quake probability zones, active faults and volcanoes, and the effects of earth­quakes in this country.

Eiby provides a concise checklist of New Zealand earthquakes, which, among other things, suggests our earliest quake occurred around 1460 in Wellington, and was known to the Maori as Hao-whenua, the land swallower. As to the future, Eiby claims that most of New Zealand is in a moderate to high earth­quake risk zone, and just because there haven’t been many quakes in places doesn’t mean that they aren’t coming up!

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