The world we live in is usually benign and forgiving, but on numerous occasions over the course of history it has also provided us with a reminder of the precarious nature of our existence. History's Worst Disasters deals with the worst of these events, describing fifty of the most extreme disasters we have suffered, from those natural phenomena which were beyond our control to the catastrophes we brought on ourselves and for which we have only ourselves to blame.
Beginning 65 million years ago with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, which accounted for the dinosaurs and almost extinguished all life on Earth, we move on to examine disasters that have occurred throughout the entire span of human history: the earthquakes and epidemics, the famines and hurricanes, and those horrors we have inflicted on each other through massacres, genocide and war.
In addition, there are examples of disasters brought on by financial, political, and military incompetence, together with those which have arisen as a result of our industrial development, at, for instance, Chernobyl and Bhopal, and those associated with mass transportation, such as the sinking of the Titanic.
Finally we take a look at environmental disasters, both actual, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the dessication of the Aral Sea, and those which have the potential to cause us all manner of trouble in the future, including the loss of biodiversity and climate change.
The scope of this book is to go beyond being a catalog of death and destruction in order to examine the consequences of these terrible events and to tell the stories of those people involved in them. Despite all the tragedy and strife, we have shown a remarkable capacity for both physical and mental endurance and have consistently demonstrated our ability to adapt to whatever is thrown at us and then bounce back even stronger than before. What emerges is a portrait of the fortitude and resilience of human beings in the face of adversity, allowing us to gain an appreciation for just how precious life is and how fragile our grip on it can be.
Eric Chaline is a professional journalist and writer specializing in history, philosophy, and religion. A graduate of Cambridge University and The School of African and Oriental Studies, London, he lived in Tokyo for WC seven years where he was English-language editor for Kodansha Publishers. His book credits from that time include Martial Arts for Fitness and Tai Chi for Mind, Body and Spirit. More recently, he has published titles on philosophy, including The Book of Zen, and on history, including Traveler's Guide to the Ancient World: Ancient Greece, History's Worst Inventions, History's Worst Deceptions, History's Worst Predictions, and Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History. He now lives and works in London, where he is conducting doctoral research in sociology at South Bank University.