The best books about earthquakes

1 authors have picked their favorite books about earthquakes and why they recommend each book.

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The Disaster Days

By Rebecca Behrens,

Book cover of The Disaster Days

The Disaster Days is a novel that has special appeal, I think, to midwesterners like myself who are equally fascinated and terrified by the idea of an earthquake. In Behren’s novel, not only does an earthquake actually happen, but it happens when young Hannah’s responsible for two young babysitting charges, Zoe and Oscar. Cut off from her family by a collapsed bridge, and cut off from the world by disabled communications systems, she is frightened to death but trying not to show it to the children. And trying not to think about the inhaler she left at home.

This survival story is unique from most in that usually the youngster struggling to survive has only their own fear to deal with and their own life at stake. In The Disaster Days, though, every decision Hannah makes must take into account what can safely be managed by the youngest of…

Who am I?

I have no wilderness survival skills and certainly no wish to be thrown into any of the scenarios in the books I’ve recommended. What I do have is great empathy for those who struggle to survive loss—in whatever form it might come—be it loss of home, or security, or family. I know what it is to struggle through darkness and survive what I would have previously thought “unsurvivable.” That’s why two of my middle grade books, but especially MacKenzie’s Last Run, are about speaking up when you’re hurting or frightened. Lost in the dark woods or lost in grief–it’s all ultimately about survival. 

I wrote...

MacKenzie's Last Run

By Gayle Rosengren,

Book cover of MacKenzie's Last Run

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old MacKenzie (Mac) Lawrence secretly blames himself for his father’s death in a mall shooting. In his grief and guilt, he has pulled away from everyone, even his twin sister Tessa. When their mother announces her plans to remarry barely two years after Dad’s death Mac is furious and runs away in an attempt to force her to break off the engagement.

Unfortunately, nothing goes as Mac plans. He ends up seriously injured, miles from home, unable to reach out for help, while clues he inadvertently left behind suggest he’s been kidnapped—possibly by Mom’s fiancé—and set his twin sister Tessa on a desperate search to find him.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes

By Frederick Lin Sutherland,

Book cover of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Earthquakes and Volcanoes is another one of the fabulous Reader’s Digest Pathfinders series specifically for kids. It features scientists at work measuring the temperature of red-hot lava, destructive earthquakes, and monstrous tsunamis bearing down on coastal ports. The cause of all of these is simply explained in the context of our planet’s shifting plate tectonic motor. The book’s author, Dr. Lin Sutherland, gave me a great helping hand during my Ph.D. degree at Macquarie University by organizing access to state-of-the-art uranium-lead age dating equipment for my sapphire samples. We became firm friends and colleagues after that, going on together to publish numerous research articles on sapphires and rubies.

Who am I?

I‘m a Sydney-based exploration geologist and science writer, travelling the world in search of gold, exotic metals, gemstones, and the stories they have to tell — writing is my tool to bring alive ideas and concepts important to me, and my popular books include Rocks, Fossils and Dinosaurs; Natural Disasters; and Geologica. Working in the world's poorest regions has also sparked a strong humanitarian interest. I'm the founding president of FreeSchools World Literacy – Australia, a charity dedicated to education of underprivileged children, and towards which earnings from my writing go. It is my belief that education for all, not just a privileged few, is key to solving the world's problems. 

I wrote...

Rocks and Fossils: A Visual Guide

By Robert R. Coenraads,

Book cover of Rocks and Fossils: A Visual Guide

What is my book about?

Rocks and Fossils' predominantly pictorial treatment lures even newcomers to the subjects of geology and paleontology. Packed with glossy color photographs of rocks, fossils, and landscapes, this book is a beauty—including a series of double-page ancient-life artworks depicting creatures from different geologic time periods, from the Precambrian forward. I describe how plate tectonics works, how life evolved, how minerals, rocks, and fossils are formed, and even give clues that people on fossicking trips should look out for. I strive to inspire the readers’ imagination of the ancient landscapes that the exciting discovery of a fossil, mineral, or gemstone conjures. A science work suitable for all ages and schooling, and available in multiple languages.

Nothing, Nobody

By Elena Poniatowska,

Book cover of Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake

This book showcases the extraordinary writing of the novelist and journalist Elena Poniatowska. She weaves together the voices of multiple journalists, her own reflections, and above all the testimonies of dozens of survivors of the two earthquakes that battered Mexico City and surrounding areas on September 19 and 20, 1985. It is both a moving report of people's suffering as well as a stirring portrait of how common people stepped in and created search and rescue teams and offered relief when government efforts failed. Poniatowska masterfully captures what many historians consider a key before and after moment in modern Mexican history.

Who am I?

Writing my history of the 1746 earthquake and tsunami that walloped much of Peru taught me that disasters serve as great entryways into society. They not only provide a snapshot (today's selfie) of where people were and what they were doing at a given moment (think Pompei) but also bring to light and even accentuate social and political tensions. I have lived my adult life between Peru and California and have experienced plenty of earthquakes. I continue to teach on "natural" disasters and have begun a project on the 1600 Huaynaputina volcano that affected the global climate. 

I wrote...

Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, and Its Long Aftermath

By Charles F. Walker,

Book cover of Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, and Its Long Aftermath

What is my book about?

On October 28, 1746, a massive earthquake ravaged Lima, a bustling city of 50,000, capital of the Peruvian Viceroyalty, and the heart of Spain’s territories in South America. Half an hour later, a tsunami destroyed the nearby port of Callao. The earthquake-tsunami demolished churches and major buildings, damaged food and water supplies, and suspended social codes, throwing people of different social classes together and prompting widespread chaos. I examine reactions to the catastrophe, the Viceroy’s plans to rebuild the city, and the opposition he encountered from the Church, the Spanish Crown, and Lima’s multiracial population.

The Viceroy devised a classic Enlightenment plan to rebuild --only to receive the full-scale opposition of virtually all of the city's population as well as nearby Indigenous communities.

The Age of Miracles

By Karen Thompson Walker,

Book cover of The Age of Miracles

I love The Age of Miracles because I was so taken with Walker’s scientific premise, that by the “slowing” of rotation, the world would come to its inevitable end. This scientifically grounded plot point was something I found arresting; it fascinated me immediately. I also loved Walker’s eleven-year-old protagonist, Julia. Julia is genuine, believable, set in her strange but also eerily recognizable nearing-the-apocalypse world. Julia also has a rich, and I felt very authentic, inner life. Her emotions rang true, and the plot not only riveted me, it broke my heart. 

Who am I?

I was a teenager in the late sixties, born into a conservative household, with a huge rebellious streak. Starting with Woodstock, I was obsessed with hippie culture. Communes in particular held a special fascination for me, and later, as places of potential depravity. My sister-in-law lived in a commune in Oregon in the late 60s/early 70s. Many of the details in my novel are pulled from her life, and though she is no longer alive, her adult children shared stories from their childhoods. Her oldest daughter, whom I fictionalized as Shoshanna, became the character and voice I used to recount the family’s escape and eventual safe landing. The story still feels like uncovered family history.

I wrote...

Disappear Home

By Laura Hurwitz,

Book cover of Disappear Home

What is my book about?

In 1970, as the hippie movement is losing its innocence, Shoshanna and her six-year-old sister, Mara, escape from Sweet Earth Farm, a declining commune run by their tyrannical and abusive father, Adam. Their mother, Ella, takes them to San Francisco, where they meet one of her old friends, Judy, and all decide to head off and try to make a life together. 

Finding a safe haven at the farm of kind, elderly Avery Elliot, the four of them find some measure of peace and stability. Then their mother's crippling depression returns. Confused and paranoid, Ella is convinced that she and the girls must leave before Adam finds them and exacts revenge. The girls don’t wish to leave the only stable home they’ve ever had. Will Shoshanna ever live a "normal" life?

Haiti After the Earthquake

By Paul Farmer,

Book cover of Haiti After the Earthquake

If you are looking for a book on Haiti's challenges, and whether or not there is long-term hope for this country, this is the book you should choose. The late Paul Farmer was a physician who has been involved for many years in improving Haiti's healthcare system, and after the 2010 earthquake worked with people like former US President Bill Clinton in helping the country to "build back better." I read the book between my first and second trips to Haiti and found it to be a treasure-trove of information on Haiti’s background, as well as sources of hope.

Who am I?

From the time I heard of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed over 200,000 people, my heart was drawn to that country. From 2012 to 2017 I lead five mission trips to Cap Haitian, where we toured mission work, helped Haitians build an elementary school, and met so many of these beautiful people. I ate the great cooking of “Mama Jo” who, along with her husband, hosted us. I gave “horsey” rides to children at a Port-au-Prince orphanage; and shared in prayer and singing with churches near Cap Haitian. In short, I fell in love with these people. How could I not write a novel of hope about them? 

I wrote...

The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint

By Keith Madsen,

Book cover of The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint

What is my book about?

In The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint, Isaac Breda seeks to renew the revolution of his famous forefather, Toussaint Louverture. He is discouraged that a revolution that had cost so much, now had so little to show for it, and he determines to make Haiti’s freedom real. He enlists his friends, including his beautiful girlfriend, Marie-Noelle. In pursuing this quest, they are inspired by the words of Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” They fight against the poverty and corruption in Haiti, and for the people and land they love. Taking on this challenge transforms both themselves and their country.

A Wrinkle in the Skin

By John Christopher,

Book cover of A Wrinkle in the Skin

In this wonderful novel, massive earthquakes cause a geological catastrophe that changes the world’s geography overnight. The upheaval of the ocean floor forms a land bridge that connects the island of Guernsey with mainland Britain. By removing the sea from the English Channel, Christopher creates a peculiar, surreal landscape which, we soon discover, is populated by some peculiar and surreal people. I particularly enjoyed the captain of the grounded ship who tries to run his vessel as though nothing has changed. John Christopher was the grandmaster of the post-apocalyptic genre.

Who am I?

“We had to put our money into bowls of vinegar,” my Aunty Mary once told me, “because they thought we’d infect them.” It’s hard to believe that this happened in living memory but in the early 1960s, smallpox came to the Rhondda valleys of South Wales where my family lived. Patients were put into a local isolation hospital. When people from the valleys went to the capital city, Cardiff, some shop-owners insisted that any coins were put into vinegar – a supposed ‘cure’ for the plague that dates back to the Middle Ages. Is it any wonder that I grew up with a fascination for the end of civilization as we know it?

I wrote...

The Snow: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

By Huw Collingbourne,

Book cover of The Snow: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

What is my book about?

It came with the snow. Overnight the world changed. Bodies lie unburied. Gangs of bestial semi-humans roam the streets hunting for prey. But for one man, the end was a new beginning. Snowbound, in an isolated cottage, Jonathan Richards wakes from illness to discover that the world he knew has gone. He sets out on a perilous journey across Britain, searching for safety – but finding only death, destruction, and danger.

The Snow takes you into a post-apocalyptic world where survival is the only goal. But survival at what cost?


By Lisa Westberg Peters, Cathie Felstead (illustrator),

Book cover of Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up

Humor and poetry brought to the natural wonders of earth? Wow! This book has twenty-two poems such as “Recipe for Granite,” “Obituary for a Clam” and “Instructions for the Earth’s Dishwasher.” A favorite is a plea for a glacier, so sluggish and slow. “Just once, when no one is looking, peel out!” The illustrations are bright and fun and the endnotes provide extra information.

Who am I?

As a writer of dozens of books for children, I always learn much more that can go into each effort. A “wow” moment gets me started. It could be a giant cactus that grows so slowly, frogs that don’t ribbet, maybe a moment with a sea turtle, or thoughts on geology and natural wonders. Each book comes into a hazy focus after tons of research but much gets left out. What goes in? The best “wow” details get woven into an incredible story full of surprise, joy, and admiration for this world of constant change and those struggling to survive.

I wrote...

Yours 'Til Niagara Falls

By Brenda Z. Guiberson, William Low (illustrator),

Book cover of Yours 'Til Niagara Falls

What is my book about?

Wow! Niagara Falls is a misty, glistening, roaring wonder of the world! But it hasn’t always existed. And eventually the powerful eroding flow of water will be no more. Illustrations show many views and moods as the waterfall shares intriguing stories of ancient history and geology, mastodon hunters and explorers, fractured rocks and artifacts, water power and electricity, daredevil challenges and carnivals, a survival route for migrating birds, and a part in the underground railroad. This is the waterfall that drenches visitors with the “mysteries of change across time.”  

Earthquake Storms

By John Dvorak,

Book cover of Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault

The title is a bit misleading. This book is more of a history of thinking and discovery about seismology—the study of earthquakes—with a focus on the San Andreas fault. What I like best is how Dvorak weaves the personal stories of scientists into the geologic story. Too often in textbooks and general-audience books, scientists don’t exist as human beings with foibles, preconceptions, and occasional bursts of insight. I wish that other books presented the human side of science as effectively as Dvorak. 

Who am I?

When I first crossed the American West nearly 4 decades ago in my ’67 Chevy, it changed my life. I had never imagined mountains built of contorted rock shoved miles into the sky, faults slashing like fresh scars across the landscape, and starkly beautiful deserts where people seemed an afterthought. After many happy years of researching and exploring the West with my geology students, I knew I wanted to tell the story to a larger audience. The result has been three books: Hard Road West, Rough-Hewn Land, and Surf, Sand, and Stone. 

I wrote...

Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Book cover of Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

What is my book about?

Unfold a map of North America, and the first thing to grab your eye is the bold shift between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. In Rough-Hewn Land, Keith Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through geologic time to explore America’s most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. He places us on the outcrops, rock hammer in hand, to examine the evidence for how these rough-hewn lands came to be. We see California and its gold assembled from pieces of old ocean floor and the relentless movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. We witness the birth of the Rockies. And we investigate the violent earthquakes that continue to shape the land today. Into the West’s geologic story, Meldahl also weaves its human history, showing us how geologic forces have shaped human experience in the past and how they direct the fate of the West today.

Ghosts of the Tsunami

By Richard Lloyd Parry,

Book cover of Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Northern Japan was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in 2011, followed by a disastrous tsunami in which thousands died. Lloyd Parry spent years visiting and interviewing the survivors, bringing back riveting accounts of what it means to have your life shattered by such a catastrophe and to live among the debris. These include one man’s description of being swallowed alive by the giant wave then spat out into the house of a relative which reads like a modern myth.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I became fascinated by Japan – by the mysteries of Zen, the exotic atmosphere cooked up by its great novelists, the serene beauty of the countryside captured in old photographs. Then I moved to Tokyo and for eleven years was immersed in Japanese culture. It was like getting to know a complex human being, I went from bafflement and revulsion through fascination and infatuation, arriving at a degree of understanding and affection. I love Japan and feel I know it quite intimately. But the variety of books on my list give an idea of how many different ways this great, elusive civilization can be approached.

I wrote...

Tokyo: The City at the End of the World

By Peter Popham,

Book cover of Tokyo: The City at the End of the World

What is my book about?

I arrived in Tokyo as a callow 25-year-old and was plunged into culture shock – unable to speak, to read, to understand, helpless as a baby. And staggered by the chaotic ugliness of the civilization I had so much admired from a distance for its aesthetic sense, its serene wisdom. 

Putting the seductive image and the brute reality together and making sense of them took seven years. This book was the result, one that is impossible to categorize, but which has changed people’s lives. ‘The best account I have ever read about how it feels to live and think’ in Tokyo, wrote one of them. ‘The best book about Japan that you have never read.’ Thirty-six years after its first publication, it still packs a punch.

Restless Earth

By Carolinda E. Hill (editor), John G. Agnone (editor), Bonnie S. Lawrence (editor)

Book cover of Restless Earth

This book is an awareness alarm for readers to comprehend the ubiquitous array of dynamic natural forces that impact the Earth. In local, regional, or global sweeping events, they need study to predict such happenings in advance and to learn from the aftermath for better future protection. The book shows a selection of events from historical to time of writing and provides gripping reading in seeing nature’s wayward effects in action.

A panel of seven expert writers well versed in these events documents and explains the forces unleashed in the visitations. Dramatic ground, aerial and satellite photography and explanatory diagrams give readers graphic grounding in the vagaries of storms, fires, floods, tsunamis, erosion, landslips, avalanches, volcanic outbursts, earthquakes, impacts from space matter, and even climate changes. 

Who am I?

My final high school year in Tasmania added a new topic, geology. I and my school friends knew little about it but signed up. In the first lesson, the teacher pointed at the adjacent sunlit river gorge saying “There is your laboratory.” We were hooked and most of us became professional geologists. I started off in museums where mineral, rock, and fossil collections were a font of knowledge and generated field collecting, research, and educational activities. This led to MSc and PhD degrees from universities at both ends of Australia. A base at the Australian Museum led to travel around Australia and visits to many overseas institutions and meetings.

I wrote...

The Volcanic Earth: Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics : Past, Present & Future

By Frederick Lin Sutherland,

Book cover of The Volcanic Earth: Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics : Past, Present & Future

What is my book about?

The Volcanic Earth takes readers into Earth’s evolution over 4.5 billion years. Early fragments of rocks remain, while present active zones form a snapshot of newer global volcanism. Volcanoes may command spectacular scenery or hide under seas or ice. They interact with landscapes, the biosphere, the atmosphere, and human populations, often with disaster but some benefits. The book illustrates volcano genesis, within Earth’s underlying heat engine and the upheavals between continents and oceanic plates. 

The book especially illustrates three contrasting zones, born as the Supercontinent Gondwana split apart. Eastern Australia developed continuing basaltic volcanism and long migrating chains of shield volcanoes. New Zealand developed the classic explosive volcanoes of the Pacific margin collision zones, the ‘Rim of Fire’. Western Antarctica remained polar and formed ice-shrouded volcanoes.     

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