No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz by Victoria Bruce
This book made me incredibly angry*, and it's one of the most important books I've ever read. If I had tons of money, I'd give a copy to literally everyone. Should you buy this book? Yes.
Do you know anyone who's skeptical about the necessity of monitoring volcanoes? Send them this book and let them know their opinions won't be entertained until they've read it in full.
Do you know anyone who's thinking of becoming a volcanologist? They need a copy.
If you read it yourself, you need to be prepared.
This deceptively short book packs more human suffering and official incompetence into its pages than most people can handle in a sitting. The details of what even quite small volcanic eruptions can do to a human body are gruesome and vivid. The horror of losing colleagues and loved ones is powerfully evoked. Victoria Bruce doesn't go out of her way to describe the stupefying brutality of an eruption and its aftermath. She doesn't use a thesaurus of the macabre to get her points across. She just matter-of-factly explains what happens using calm, precise prose. It's all she needs.
In No Apparent Danger, Bruce tells the stories of two lethal Colombian volcanoes; Nevada del Ruiz, which killed 23,000 people when a minor eruption melted its glaciers and buried towns downstream in massive lahars, and Galera, which killed nine scientists and tourists during a tiny phreatic eruption almost a decade later. She has empathy for the officials and scientists who were suddenly faced with active volcanoes and almost no means to figure out what might happen next, but she doesn't flinch from cataloging the many political, cultural, and scientific failures that led to avoidable loss of life.
Bruce's writing is clear and crisp. She knows how to explain the science for lay readers without making it too watery for experts to appreciate. She knows exactly which details to place precisely where they will build tension, even when you know how the story ends. She is phenomenal at evoking the essence of people and places, without having to waste words. Like the best novelists, she engages all the senses. And she builds her case like an expert attorney.
By the end, you'll be a fervent fan of volcano monitoring, and you'll also know what you should and should not look for in a person who's about to lead a field trip into an active volcano. I literally cannot recommend this book enough. And if anyone you know scoffs at volcano monitoring, be sure they've got a copy — and send one to anyone in charge of funding or policy decisions who seems to be skeptical as well. This is also an excellent book to give any groovy granola folks who think volcanoes won't ever harm them.