Catastrophes, it seems, are becoming more frequent in the twenty-first century. According to UN statistics, every year approximately two hundred million people are directly affected by natural disasters_seven times the number of people who are affected by war. Discussions about global warming and fatal disasters such as Katrina and the Tsunami of 2004 have heightened our awareness of natural disasters and of their impact on both local and global communities. Hollywood has also produced numerous disaster movies in recent years, some of which have become blockbusters. This volume demonstrates that natural catastrophes_earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc._have exercised a vast impact on humans throughout history and in almost every part of the world. It argues that human attitudes toward catastrophes have changed over time. Surprisingly, this has not necessarily led to a reduction of exposure or risk. The organization of the book resembles a journey around the globe_from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and from the Pacific through South America and Mexico to the United States. While natural disasters appear everywhere on the globe, different cultures, societies, and nations have adopted specific styles for coping with disaster. Indeed, how humans deal with catastrophes depends largely on social and cultural patterns, values, religious belief systems, political institutions, and economic structures. The roles that catastrophes play in society and the meanings they are given vary from one region to the next; they differ_and this is one of the principal arguments of this book_from one cultural, political, and geographic space to the next. The essays collected here help us to understand not only how people in different times throughout history have learned to cope with disaster but also how humans in different parts of the world have developed specific cultural, social, and technological strategies for doing so.
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