The Cure for Catastrophe

How We Can Stop Manufacturing Natural Disasters


By Robert Muir-Wood

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$38.99 CAD



  1. Hardcover $29.99 $38.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 6, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

We can’t stop natural disasters but we can stop them being disastrous. One of the world’s foremost risk experts tells us how.

Year after year, floods wreck people’s homes and livelihoods, earthquakes tear communities apart, and tornadoes uproot whole towns. Natural disasters cause destruction and despair. But does it have to be this way?

In The Cure for Catastrophe, global risk expert Robert Muir-Wood argues that our natural disasters are in fact human ones: We build in the wrong places and in the wrong way, putting brick buildings in earthquake country, timber ones in fire zones, and coastal cities in the paths of hurricanes. We then blindly trust our flood walls and disaster preparations, and when they fail, catastrophes become even more deadly. No society is immune to the twin dangers of complacency and heedless development.

Recognizing how disasters are manufactured gives us the power to act. From the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to Hurricane Katrina, The Cure for Catastrophe recounts the ingenious ways in which people have fought back against disaster. Muir-Wood shows the power and promise of new predictive technologies, and envisions a future where information and action come together to end the pain and destruction wrought by natural catastrophes. The decisions we make now can save millions of lives in the future.

Buzzing with political plots, newfound technologies, and stories of surprising resilience, The Cure for Catastrophe will revolutionize the way we conceive of catastrophes: though natural disasters are inevitable, the death and destruction are optional. As we brace ourselves for deadlier cataclysms, the cure for catastrophe is in our hands.


  • "[A] wrenching indictment of humanity's shortsightedness...Examining case after case of earthquake, fire, flood, tsunami and volcanic eruption across centuries, Muir-Wood shows greedy developers and corporations playing down risks to cut immediate costs and politicians gaining popularity when they dole out disaster relief while 'money spent on preparedness wins no votes.' Journalists exacerbate the problem by trumpeting the heroism of search-and-rescue teams and then quickly losing interest in the more systemic problems. Muir-Wood, himself a talented storyteller, makes a strong case for rewarding those who take comparatively dull precautions."
-Kim Tingley, New York Times Book Review

"Disaster expert Robert Muir-Wood's study is science in the round, spanning centuries of catastrophes, key figures...forecasting, the intricacies of insurance (multistory concrete buildings are revealed as 'weapons of mass destruction' in a quake) - and a detailed, workable recipe for resilience."

"In eloquent prose, Muir-Wood recounts disasters of the past millennium from a variety of perspectives: historical accounts; natural process science; structural engineering; building codes; land-use regulation; risk estimation; risk management; insurance and reinsurance; and, perhaps above all, political processes and priorities. His message for the future is hopeful but demands changes in both policy and culture... The Cure for Catastrophe is beautifully written, thoughtful, and rigorous...[A] pleasure to read."
-Timothy A. Cohn, Science
  • "Muir-Wood provides a unique perspective on and comprehensive study of the complex world of managing natural disasters."
  • -Booklist

    "Astute...Readers interested in natural disasters, climate change, and weather will be riveted by this comprehensive account of emergency management."
    -Library Journal

    "A fascinating examination of the 'forensics of disasters'...Readers will find it hard to stop reading this excellent book and will share the author's perhaps futile yearning that elected officials have the courage to pass inconvenient laws and spend the electorate's money to prevent disasters."
    -Kirkus, starred review

    "In his meticulous reportage on a number of environmental calamities over the past 300 years, the author offers a cautionary map of the route we took to arrive at this vital geologic moment."
    -Publishers Weekly
  • "With beautifully crafted prose, Robert Muir-Wood reminds us that 'natural catastrophe' is an oxymoron-hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes are natural, but by building flimsy structures in dangerous places, we are the cause of catastrophe. With each riveting disaster story and every tale of policy failure, we become better armed with the knowledge of historical errors we need to avoid repeating them."
  • -Kerry A. Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT

    "This is a very important book. In it, Robert Muir-Wood, convincingly documents his claim that what we are prone to call 'natural disasters' are in truth almost always caused by humans. Somewhat surprisingly, this is basically good news: if 'natural disasters' are in fact caused by human actions, then by changing our behavior we can prevent them. This is a truly interesting and important book. Read it."
    -Robert M May, Professor Lord May of Oxford

    "Robert Muir-Wood is one of the world's leading experts when it comes to natural disasters, and we are well-advised to heed his warnings. In his new book The Cure for Catastrophe, Muir-Wood provides a lucid explanation of the risks we face from natural disasters ranging from Earthquakes to Tsunamis to the impacts of human-caused climate change on extreme, damaging weather events. His most sobering lesson for us, however, is this: much of the risk isn't natural at all-it's a result of our poor planning and decision making. The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the increasing exposure we face from natural disasters and what we can do to mitigate it."
    - Michael E. Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center at Penn State and author of Dire Predictions

    On Sale
    Sep 6, 2016
    Page Count
    368 pages
    Basic Books

    Robert Muir-Wood

    About the Author

    Robert Muir Wood is the chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions and a visiting professor at University College London’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. He is the founding editor of the magazine Terra Nova and has published several books. He lives in London, United Kingdom.

    Learn more about this author