Monday, April 24, 2023

REVIEW: No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz (nonfiction book) by Victoria Bruce

No Apparent Danger is nonfiction. I checked my copy out from the library.


This book is an account of the November 1985 Nevado Del Ruiz eruption that killed more than 23,000 people and destroyed the city of Armero, as well as an account of the January 1993 Galeras eruption that killed six scientists and three tourists.

While the accounts were interesting (and horrifying), this was initially looking like a 3-star read for me due to what I saw as organizational issues and a lack of focus. Yes, the eruptions both took place in Colombia, and some of the same people, such as Colombian geologist Marta Calvache, came up in conjunction with both of them, but I had trouble keeping track of why they were related enough to base a book on both of them. The Nevado Del Ruiz eruption was horrific and resulted in an enormous loss of life. The eruption in Galeras was much smaller and only killed people because they happened to be in the crater (and, for the most part, not wearing proper safety equipment). I should add that I don't read a lot of nonfiction and tend to have attention span issues with it, so that could definitely have been a factor in my overall feelings.

The last couple chapters in particular were a light bulb moment for me - either Bruce didn't lay things out that clearly earlier on in the book (quite possible, in order to let readers judge for themselves), or I didn't pay enough attention and missed it. This book was an account of the two tragedies and what was learned from them, true, but it was also a carefully constructed case against Stanley Williams and his version of the Galeras eruption. This might have been more obvious to those with a better background in geology and volcanology, but I came into this knowing nothing.

Stanley Williams was one of the scientists who survived the Galeras eruption. When he had recovered enough to speak to the media, he either presented himself as the only survivor of the eruption or chose not to correct the media's misrepresentation of him as the only survivor. Considering how severely injured he'd been, I was initially somewhat inclined to think that he'd gotten things confused due to brain damage, but as Bruce described the degree to which Williams used the Galeras eruption to build up his career and reputation, I began to feel much less charitable. 

This was an excellent account of two tragic disasters, the events that led up to them, and some of the things learned from them. Bruce also did a great job of getting me emotionally invested in a controversy I hadn't previously known about.

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