SCIENCES

Mountains of Fire: The Menace, Meaning, and Magic of Volcanoes

Univ. of Chicago Sept. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9780226826349. $27.50. SCI
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Readers are in for some “igneous encounters” of the fascinating kind as filmmaker and volcanologist Oppenheimer (volcanology, Cambridge Univ.; Eruptions That Shook the World) journeys to some unusual volcanic sites in North Korea, the Sahara, Iceland, and Antarctica. He structures the book around the arc of his scientific career, but cleverly interweaves stories of volcanology’s pioneers—sometimes walking in their footsteps. The result is a book of engaging depth. Oppenheimer explains in layman’s terms his own research concerning gas emissions, but he emphasizes the cultural and historical aspects of volcanoes too. He argues that volcanoes have inspired; they’re more than disaster, doom, and destruction. The key to his science is fieldwork observation, and while the profession’s unique hazards become frighteningly clear, so do the rewards as he peers over the craters’ edges and records some extraordinary sights, sounds, and smells. Poignant personal details—the author making mental notes of Eritrean roadside geology even after enduring a tense hostage-taking, or calling out to those who had climbed Antarctica’s Mt. Erebus before him—reveal his deep passion for the subject.
VERDICT This book offers a plethora of captivating details. Perfect for volcano junkies, those interested in earth sciences and history, or readers seeking white-knuckle mountain adventure.
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