Review: History’s Worst Disasters by Eric Chaline

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The world we live in is usually benign and forgiving, but on numerous occasions over the course of history it has also acted as a reminder of the precarious nature of our existence. Starting with the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction, author Eric Chaline takes you on a tour of humanity’s disasters, with triggers caused by nature as well as combined natural-human influences such as the HIV-AIDS pandemic and the Irish Famine, and even events dictated solely by human actions, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and 9/11. The scope of History’s Worst Disasters is to go beyond cataloging death and destruction in order to examine the consequences of these terrible events.

Perhaps I should have taken more into account in the second part of the title “and the stories behind them”. If you’re looking for a book that goes into details about the disasters themselves and describes in depth what happened, this isn’t your book. While thoughtfully focusing on a wealth of different disasters throughout history, the author more focuses on WHY the event happened rather than the event itself. As a useful tool to explaining the background of many major disasters through history this book is invaluable, especially in a school setting. Just be warned that if you’re looking for a lot of information about the disaster itself this might not be the best place to start.

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