Cover image for Out of the crater : chronicles of a volcanologist
Out of the crater : chronicles of a volcanologist
Fisher, Richard V. (Richard Virgil), 1928-2002.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
179 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE22.F44 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Volcanologists venture to treacherous volcanoes the world over in the pursuit of their science. They work around craters of boiling magma and amidst smoke, flames, scorched rocks, and clouds of noxious gases--balancing personal risk against advancing knowledge about one of nature's most dangerous and unpredictable forces. Richard Fisher, a world-renowned volcanologist, has had more than forty years of experience in the field. In this book, he blends autobiography with clear, accessible science to introduce readers to the basics of volcanology and to the wonders of volcanoes that he has studied and learned to both fear and admire.

In the course of the book, we follow Fisher as he descends into the steaming crater of the Soufri re Volcano on the island of St. Vincent, as he conducts research on lava flows on the desolate south shore of the Island of Hawaii, and as he struggles to understand the explosion at Mount St. Helens. We learn about his pioneering work on pyroclastic flows and surges--the hurricanes of gases, molten lava, and volcanic debris that cause most of the death and destruction when volcanoes explode. He tells of solving a historic scientific problem at Mount Pelee, Martinique, where 29,000 people were killed in a pyroclastic flow in 1902. Fisher also offers a volcanologist's view of the explosion of Mount Vesuvius that devastated Pompeii and Herculaneum. He writes about the cultural rewards and challenges of conducting research in isolated areas of such countries as Argentina, Mexico, and China. And he discusses the early influences that steered him toward volcanology--including his army experiences as a witness to two atom-bomb explosions at Bikini atoll.

Out of the Crater is written in an inviting, nontechnical style. With its deft combination of personal stories and scientific information, it is an inspiring account of a remarkable life and a compelling examination of some of the most spectacular forces shaping the face of the Earth.

Author Notes

Richard V. Fisher is Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has taught and researched since 1955. In 1997, he was awarded the Thorarinsson Medal, the highest honor of the International Society of Volcanologists. Fisher is the coauthor, with Grant Heiken and Jeffrey B. Hulen, of Volcanoes: Crucibles of Change (Princeton). He also wrote Pyroclastic Rocks with H.-U. Schmincke and coedited Sedimentation in Volcanic Settings with G. A. Smith.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Fisher looks back on his 50-year love affair with volcanoes and shares the highlights of a wonderfully serendipitous career. Eschewing the jargon and formality of scientific writing, his reminiscences are sweetly anecdotal and subtly instructive. His volcano mania began in 1946 when he enlisted in the army and was asked to choose between becoming an MP or being sent to Los Alamos as a decontaminationist. He chose the latter and subsequently ended up witnessing the nuclear tests at the Bikini atoll, experiences that sparked an interest in the most radical of geological events, volcanic eruptions. The first site he explored was Mount Rainer, and he soon realized that for him, "each day in the field was a meditation." His concentration and pleasure are obvious in his vivid accounts of expeditions in Oregon, Hawaii, New Zealand, China, Italy (where he studied the now mythic Mount Vesuvius), and Washington State, where he traveled just after the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Fisher has written a fine professional memoir, animated by an unceasing sense of wonder. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fisher, a geologist and volcanologist, has spent the last half century hopping the globe, studying volcanoes and volcanic rocks. This informal account of his fieldwork, though at times workmanlike and pedestrian, is for the most part a remarkable and enlightening adventure. Fisher's memoir boasts an itinerary that encompasses the Caribbean island of Martinique, where Mount Pelée‘whose explosion in 1902 wiped out St. Pierre's 29,000 residents‘is continually monitored; China's eastern coast, not yet open to foreign tourists when he tours it in 1985; and Hawaii's Puu Hou, a gigantic mound of volcanic particles, created in 1868 when magma flowing from Mauna Loa into the cold Pacific explosively sprayed the land with lava. Readers who think volcanoes are confined to exotic, far-off places should stay the course with Fisher: in central France, he visits a field of active volcanoes near the city of Clermont-Ferrand; in Germany, he explores Laacher See, a lake inside a volcanic crater; in Italy, he climbs Mt. Vesuvius, hovering over Naples and overdue for eruption. And, even closer to home: the author surveys Washington State's Mt. St. Helens three weeks after it erupted in 1980, killing 57 people, and offers potentially life-saving insights for those within killing range of future eruptions. Fisher (a professor emeritus at UC-Santa Barbara) believes that the "Gaia hypothesis," which views Earth as a complex living organism, may not be scientifically valid but nonetheless serves as a useful operative metaphor, and his guided tour indeed fosters an appreciation of our planet as a dynamic web of interrelated systems. Photos. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A volcanologist for 40 years, Fisher was awarded the Thorarinsson Medal, the highest honor of the International Society of Volcanologists, in 1997. He follows Volcanoes: Crucibles of Change (Princeton Univ., 1997), on the interaction of volcanoes and people, with this more personal account, a scientific memoir intended for a lay audience. Locations range from the exotic (mainland China, Martinique) to the more familiar (Vesuvius, Mount St. Helens), and discussions of the various cultures Fisher encounters are a side benefit. Danger is not a prime issue, though he does not skirt it. Fisher aims to understand how to predict the paths of volcanic activity, particularly pyroclastic flows and surges. He doesn't give answers but opens more questions, as good science always does. A glossary is helpful, and suggested reading appears at the end of each chapter. Recommended for scientists and interested lay readers.‘Jean E. Crampon, Science & Engineering Lib., Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Fisher coauthored (with Grant Heiken and Jeffrey B. Hulen) Volcanoes: Crucibles of Change (CH, Nov'97), a popular general work, and a scholarly work (with H.-U. Schmincke), Pyroclastic Rocks (CH, Oct'84). This latest book is an autobiographical account of more than 40 years spent as a field volcanologist. Fisher relates how a would-be music major discovered a passion for science and how his research serendipitously benefited from the chance viewing of an atomic bomb explosion at Bikini Atoll in 1946. In clear, inviting prose and appropriately illustrated with black-and-white photographs of the field locations described, this pioneer in understanding the dynamics of explosive eruptions takes the reader through a geological career pursued in many of the world's great volcanic regions. The author aims his words at general readers and succeeds in educating as he conveys the excitement felt by a research scientist deeply involved in the discovery processes. The book will also interest geologists, historians of science, and those interested in the scientific method. General readers; undergraduates through professionals. E. R. Swanson University of Texas at San Antonio