Volcanic Reading for the Long, Hot Summer

This year, volcanoes have simmered in Hawaii and erupted in Guatemala, at great human cost.  After tragedy, we have questions that are scientific, mythical, and personal. How well can scientists predict when lava will flow and ash rain from the sky? How do human beings live with the constant threat that the earth will crack open to send a river of fire over their homes?

Volcano books here at CALS

Authors in the CALS collection have sought both rational and poetic ways to come to terms with destructive force that dwarfs even 21st century technology.

The print book collection contains volcano reading for science lovers, as well as disaster memoirs and historical fiction about Pompeii. Sci fi and fantasy fans can check out N.K. Jemisin’s award-winning series about humans who control seismic forces in a post-apocalyptic future.

Top picks from books in the print collection:

 No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado del Ruiz

By Victoria Bruce

HarperCollins, 2001

This suspenseful account reveals unsettling truths about the scientific mistakes that led to massive loss of life from Colombian volcanoes. Author Victoria Bruce uses her background in geology to write expertly of the tragic events of 1985, when 23,000 people died after the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz. Bruce then chronicles the action eight years later and only 300 miles away, when a team of volcanologists and tourists descended unknowingly into a burbling crater. The team suffered terrible effects when the volcano erupted as they stood at ground zero, and the author’s description of the resulting deaths and injuries is not for the faint of heart. The narrative is a cautionary tale about consequences when scientific capability is hampered by human arrogance and political corruption.

Similar books available to check out from CALS include Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount Saint Helens by Steve Olson (W.W. Norton, 2016) and a more historical take from The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History by William and Nicholas Klingaman (St. Martin’s, 2013).


Volcano: A Memoir of Hawaii

By Garrett Hongo

Knopf, 1995

A more reflective take on life beside a volcano comes from author Garrett Hongo, a Japanese American born in Hawaii but raised in Los Angeles. As an adult, Hongo returns to his small Hawaiian hometown named Volcano, in the shadow of Kilauea (the same volcano that in 2018 is streaming lava across the island). The result is a lyrical, powerful memoir about the nature of homecoming and home. Hongo brings us with him to the damp, misty island where he steps over steaming cracks that open to volcanic lava flows. His memoir brings a bone-deep understanding of how a place of danger can also be a spiritual home and source of meaning, or, as he eloquently writes, “making and unmaking.”

Similar reflections on life with volcanoes are available in Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives by John Calderazzo (Lyons/Globe Pequot, 2004).


The Fifth Season

By N.K. Jemisin

Orbit, 2015

Winner of the Hugo Award in 2016, this epic fantasy series (The Broken Earth) begins in a post-apocalyptic future in which a great volcanic fissure is spewing ash all over a continent called the Stillness. Certain members of all races known as Orogenes have developed powers that allow them to control seismic forces related to the earth and temperature. To survive periodic climate disasters, a tyrannical world order has enslaved the Orogenes to keep their powers under tight control. This series brings new depth and social resonance to the fantasy genre. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is astonishing in its originality, realism, and detail and her characters are compelling.

The Fifth Season is also available as a digital download in ebook or audiobook format from the free Overdrive application. CALS staff can assist with learning how to use the application.


Pompeii: A Novel

By Robert Harris

Random House, 2003

Author Robert Harris captures the odd combination of logic, science, and barbaric harshness that characterizes Roman life in this quality historical novel with a contemporary edge. His protagonist is a Roman engineer, Marcus Attilius, who travels to Pompeii to investigate a mysterious problem with the city’s aqueduct. The suspense of the action comes not from awaiting the outcome but from watching the unknowing cast of characters head toward an ending worthy of Greek tragedy. Power and corruption in the Roman empire create parallels with today’s American empire to make this novel a provocative and timely read. Judging from the author’s selection of quotations that open the novel, the imperial comparison is intentional.

Pompeii by Robert Harris is also available as an audiobook on CD that can be checked out from the Main Library or delivered to your branch library through the Hold system for checkout.


For more reads inspired by current events, check your local branch for easy-to-find displays full of staff picks on today’s topics and people in the news.