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Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science
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Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  120 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
Volcanoes have destroyed and killed throughout history, but we have never known much about them. Now a group of brave scientists are working to understand the actual conditions that cause eruptions, how to predict them, and what we can do, if anything, to temper their destructiveness. Thompson, a Time magazine correspondent, takes us from the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St. H ...more
Paperback, 326 pages
Published January 18th 2002 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Nov 28, 2008 Eric_W rated it it was amazing
Volcanology consists primarily of observation. Description is not unusual in any science (astronomy is another example) but it is usually the first step in the scientific process. Following observations, hypotheses are then tested through repeated experiments. Volcanoes don’t lend themselves to such experimentation and they are usually located in remote, often inaccessible locations and the environment tends to be hostile to say the least.

Thomson, science writer for Time Magazine, has explored
Oct 04, 2010 Shannon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. It deals with the science of volcanolgy as it changed so drastically with Mount St. Helens. There was a lot of build up to the explosion, giving background on both the volcano and the USGS and volcano specialist. I actually liked the second part of the book better than the first, as it dealt more with how they changed their approach to react to erupting volcanoes around the world. It was interesting to watch as computers came into play, and the increased knowledge that ...more
May 24, 2016 Paul rated it it was amazing
Dayum. This is history-of-geology-as-a-discipline crack. There is a strange exaltation in reading about really famous events in my discipline in great detail and learning about the personalities involved. Johnston's famous last words as the lateral blast overran him I've known for twenty years. Now I have a personal history and a political situation and an awful, awful sequence of circumstances that put HIM in death's way.

About half the book is about Mt. St. Helens, there are some bridging chapt
Mar 27, 2008 Hillary rated it really liked it
Recommended to Hillary by: History 453
I quite disliked this book in the beginning. Geology? Rocks are boring. Give me some biology or chemistry, instead. I read three quarters of the book and tossed it aside to mellow for a week. Also, I became convinced, upon reading the journalistic, cliffhanger-filled, dramatic story of the St. Helens 1980 eruptions(s) and the build up to the Pinatubo 1991 eruptions(s) that I am in immediate and extreme danger of being killed by a volcanic eruption. (NB--I live in Rhode Island. Volcanoes? Not so ...more
Jan 19, 2009 Valerie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Steve
My husband is entranced by volcanoes and earthquakes, so I often buy him books on the subject. This one I think he read. It also works as a travel book.
Tara Jeanne
Oct 21, 2007 Tara Jeanne rated it liked it
Recommends it for: the science in you
ok, volcanos... hmmm... you'd be surprised... it's quite gripping! Its the story about the guys who studied Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Pinotubo when they blew their tops! really cool, actually!
Dee Eisel
Nov 09, 2015 Dee Eisel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I love this book. I first read it back in 2000 when I was working a third-shift job, and I devoured it in less than a half-shift. I've owned three different copies because I keep giving it away, and since NaNoWriMo isn't working for me right now, I decided to get back to the reviews. I can't think of a book I'd rather share.

Volcano Cowboys tells the story of the volcanologists who worked on Mt. St. Helens, Long Valley, Armero, and how all of that came together for the lifesaving that happened at
Lynn Pribus
Aug 04, 2012 Lynn Pribus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book. Focuses mainly on Mt. St. Helens which erupted while we lived in Calif. Later we flew commercial to Seattle and the pilot dipped the plane so we could all look down into the newer crater. Although you know the mountain blows, there is still a great sense of suspense in the chapters leading up to the actual event. Well, events....

The second part is mostly about Pinatubo, its warnings and the difficulty of the experts trying to convey the impending catastrophe when it is so har
Oct 17, 2016 Susan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: armchair geologists,
This is an excellent overview of the advances in the science of volcano prediction told around the eruptions of two volcanoes; Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, with additional material briefly covering the years between the two events. Since I just read No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz much of the terminology was familiar, and I had hoped the author would fold in the events covered in that book as well, but Th ...more
Jun 26, 2011 Renee rated it really liked it
Seriously, these guys are NUTS! While everyone else runs screaming FROM a volcano, these dudes are running TOWARDS them! This was an awesome book, and I loved it. Added to my "Research for Fyre Mountain" resume. Very nice breakdown of the stages an eruption goes through, and the different types of eruptions. It also illustrates the lengths of denial people will go to, until faced with the harsh reality--the people who had to retrieve a photo album from an evacuated house on the day Mt St Helens ...more
Jul 13, 2013 Pamela rated it it was amazing
"We called ourselves volcano cowboys and we were anxious to go to any volcano that would have us."

Love this book! Ok, I'm a geologist who loves history too so this is the perfect match for me. This is the riveting story of those scientists who brought volcanology into the modern era. It's the story of how Mount St. Helens changed everything we thought we knew about volcanos and the brave men and women who struggled to extract science from such a violent laboratory.
Michael Harris
Mar 11, 2012 Michael Harris rated it it was amazing
An APL Recycled Reads find. A vivid story of the dedicated scientists of the US Geological Survey who took volcanology from an art to a science. The story details Mt St Helens, what the Survey learned and politics aside how they put that to use to save lives at Clark Air Force base in the Philippines during the eruption of Mount Pinatuba. Well written and a riveting read for a science story.
May 30, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it
"Disbelief is often the first response to a volcano's awakening." This book was recommended to me by a coworker whose neighbors are USGS vulcanologist who study Mt. St. Helens. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the volcano's eruption, I thought this wold be a good book to read. It's very good!
Oct 25, 2012 Sarahandus rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
I thought this was about volcanoes in general. Unfortunately it seems to be all about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. I live about 50 miles from that mountain and was here when it erupted, I don't want to be reminded of that.

The book could be very interesting otherwise.
Staff Favorites
Jan 10, 2013 Staff Favorites rated it really liked it
This title chronicles the changes and growth of volcano research from the predicted, but deadly eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, to the successful evacuation around Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. More than you ever wanted to know about volcanoes!
Oct 24, 2009 Marge rated it really liked it
Reading this was prompted by seeing volcanos in Costa Rica. Now I know more about various kinds.
May 26, 2011 Pancha rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Interesting and exciting, and I am very glad I don't live near a volcano. This will add to my enjoyment of Dante's Peak as well.
Jul 13, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013book, nf
Loved this. I would have given it 5 stars but that's because I'm a volcano nut and not because it's quite a 5 star book. But it was really, really, good.
David Ross
“Maybe they had become volcano smoke jumpers, diving into an unknown risk to do a dangerous job because, in part, it was a social good and, in part, because they loved the big show.”
Mar 04, 2008 Kristeen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-stuff
A gift from someone who knows of my nerdy passion for books about rocks. A great look into the life of scientists and also how science moves forward. Very readable and insightful.
Mar 07, 2012 Whitney rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. In addition to the fact that volcanoes and geology are two of my favorite subjects, I actually know some of the players personally. Again, great book.
Apr 12, 2014 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Excellent book, damning the behaviors of some for glory and not science.
Sep 01, 2008 Lily rated it it was amazing
One of my favorites... the real story of how modern volcanology came to be during the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Pinitubo in 1991.
Feb 13, 2011 J. rated it liked it
volcanos are kind of boring
Bob rated it really liked it
Jul 09, 2015
John rated it it was amazing
Sep 27, 2013
Ann Ghyzel
Ann Ghyzel rated it it was amazing
Feb 04, 2015
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May 03, 2014
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Jul 12, 2014
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“Maybe they had become volcano smoke jumpers, diving into an unknown risk to do a dangerous job because, in part, it was a social good and, in part, because they loved the big show.” 1 likes
“So Dan Miller decided to roast a pig. The idea took hold of him after another eruption on August 7. He would roast a pig in the steaming volcano fields at the base of St. Helens. Being a scientist meant that he would do it in a methodical fashion: notes would be kept and he would document everything. The operation needed a cover name because reporters and others were monitoring all radio communication around the volcano, so he called it the 'FPP temperature experiment'. FPP stood for Front Page Palmer, a name the scientists had given a local geology professor who had irritated the Survey geologists by grandstanding for the press. Miller would roast a pig and Palmer at the same time.” 1 likes
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