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Calculating Catastrophe

Gordon Woo
Imperial College Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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The title of this book is wrong, in the sense there is very little actual calculation done. In general the book is a description of human and natural (rather than mathematical) catastrophes: the majority of the pages deal with human disasters. Historic volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, mudslides, floods, tornadoes, plagues, earthquakes and manmade economic disasters are described in nonmathematical detail. Many historical references are used, which made the book very interesting.

However, if you are looking for a mathematical analysis of catastrophes beyond that at the level of the general reader, you will find little of that here. There are a few advanced equations, but they are so sparse that the impression is that they were inserted as afterthoughts. The mathematics that appears most often is basic probability and simple predictions based on past events. Nevertheless, I found it an excellent history of catastrophes in the history of the planet, most of which involved the deaths of large numbers of humans.

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

  • Natural Hazards:
    • Causation and Association
    • Extra-Terrestrial Hazards
    • Meteorological Hazards
    • Geological Hazards
    • Geomorphic Hazards
    • Hydrological Hazards
  • Societal Hazards:
    • Political Violence
    • Infectious Disease Pandemics
    • Industrial and Transportation Accidents
    • Fraud Catastrophe
  • A Sense of Scale:
    • Size Scales of Natural Hazards
    • Hazard Spatial Scales
    • The Human Disaster Toll
    • Models of a Fractal World
  • A Measure of Uncertainty:
    • The Concept of Probability
    • The Meaning of Uncertainty
    • Aleatory and Epistemic Uncertainty
    • Probability Ambiguity
    • The Weighing of Evidence
  • A Matter of Time:
    • Temporal Models of Hazards
    • Long-Term Data Records
    • Statistics of Extremes
  • Catastrophe Complexity:
    • Emergent Catastrophes
    • Financial Crashes
    • Ancillary Hazards
  • Terrorism:
    • A Thinking Man's Game
    • Defeating Terrorist Networks
    • Counter-Radicalization
  • Forecasting:
    • Earthquake Forecasting
    • Verification
    • River Flows and Sea Waves
    • Accelerating Approach to Criticality
    • Evidence-Based Diagnosis
  • Disaster Warning:
    • Decision in the Balance
    • Evacuation
    • The Wisdom of Experts
  • Disaster Scenarios:
    • Scenario Simulation
    • Footprints and Vulnerability
    • Fermi Problems
  • Catastrophe Cover:
    • Probable Maximum Loss
    • Coherent Risk Measures
    • The Samaritan's Dilemma
  • Catastrophe Risk Securitization:
    • Catastrophe Bonds
    • The Price of Innovation
  • Risk Horizons:
    • Ecological Catastrophe
    • Climate Change
    • War and Conflict Resolution