cover image Great Disasters

Great Disasters

Robert Dolezal, Reader's Digest, Of Readers Digest Editors. Reader's Digest Association, $30 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-89577-321-0

This illustrated survey of calamities takes in the Ice Age, Europe's Black Death epidemic of the 14th century, the Chicago fire of 1871, ``pea souper'' fogs in London from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and current droughts, crop losses and famines in Africa. Such range in the detailing of facts and lore of fantastical misfortunes will reward the curious reader. Cliches abound, however, limiting the power of the prose: modern Africa's ``starving throngs'' are said to ``haunt the world's imagination''; after Japan's Kanto earthquake of 1923, rumors of the scope of its destruction ``spread like wildfire'' and ``terror stalked the streets.'' Many of the 350 photographs and paintings hold the attention more surely, among them a Viennese print depicting a woman dressed to ward off cholera in the 19th century and a photograph of houses tossed, turned and shredded during the Johnstown Flood of 1889 in Pennsylvania. 30,000 first printing; $30,000 ad/promo. (Oct.)