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The age of natural disasters is coming to a close. Where we once saw spontaneous destruction from cyclones, floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and eruptions, we're coming to understand the deeper connections between our choices and our catastrophes. But in spite of this knowledge, year by year, the wreckage is piling higher.

Just when we should be rushing to act against basic causes – the hijack of the atmosphere, the inequalities of risk – a strange and dangerous optimism has taken hold. It says that communities under threat simply need to learn the art of resilience, to adapt, and thereby to survive. To make such a prescription is to deny the human hand in disaster creation and to demand that the Earth’s beleaguered people absorb the rush of floodwaters and the crush of landslides so disaster can become just another sector of the economy.

In How the World Breaks, Stan Cox, author of the much debated and widely acclaimed Losing Our Cool, and his son, anthropologist and writer Paul Cox, question the current wave of thinking about disasters and resilience by taking it out of the realms of theory into the muck and ash of the world's broken places. From the people living in the path of destruction, they learn that change is more than just adaptation and life is more than just survival.

The stories

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How the World Breaks charts the fault lines and storm fronts of our turbulent present through ten remarkable stories spanning five continents. Maps hand-inked by Priti Gulati Cox accompany each tale.

Fire Regimes: Australia and Siberia
In October 2013, the Blue Mountains burned. . . .

Leave It Up to Batman: The Philippines
Two months after the strongest storm landfall ever recorded, Judith Buhay stood on a balcony at the point of impact, overlooking her community. . . .

Neighbors to the Sky: New York City
Disaster survivors can try to restore their world as it was on the day before, or they can hit fast-forward, attempting to speed over the rough patch to a better tomorrow. . . .

Grey Goo: East Java, Indonesia
At 5:00 a.m. on May 29, 2006, an eruption of water, steam, and thick grey mud emerged from a rice paddy in Porong subdistrict. Nine years later, the eruption had slowed but the mud showed no sign of stopping. . . .

Foreshock, Shock, Aftershock: L’Aquila, Italy
Nothing complicates disaster quite like blame. . . .

Atlantis of the Americas: Miami, Florida
“When I started this job, people kept asking me, ‘Why do we have so much flooding now?’ and I said, ‘Well, there’s just one problem: the whole city’s four feet too low—that’s all!’” . . .

The Absorbers: Mumbai, India and Kampala, Uganda
In booming cities like Mumbai and Kampala, the roots of vulnerability run fiendishly deep through the landscape. . . .

Keeping the Lights On: Montserrat, West Indies
The big trucks covered in grey dust rumble through a grey landscape, over the top of a lost city, to a grey pier. . . .

“We Do Things Big Here”: Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri
It’s obvious as soon as you reach the only traffic light in Kiowa County, Kansas, and take a turn south off U.S. Highway 54: there is something different about Greensburg. . . .

When Mountains Fall: Uttarakhand State, India
The Ganges River begins as four chief tributaries, and the four chief tributaries spring from four glaciers atop the Himalaya. . . .

Excerpts

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News

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Praise

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"This book, crafted with stunning, moving, and crisp story-telling, settles the score about the stark human fingerprint on our own civilization's agonies and misfortunes."
— Yeb Saño, former lead climate negotiator for the Philippines

"The Coxes with eyes wide deep see beneath the shimmering surface of progress and development."
— Godfrey Reggio, director of Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi

"With powerful prose and meticulous scrutiny, How the World Breaks strips naked the dynamics of risk creation and the consequent disasters. Alternating chapters of keen analysis and veracious case studies elucidate the false notion that disasters bring about beneficial change . . . and illuminate how failed disaster policies have led to horrific duress."
— Susanna Hoffman, disaster anthropologist and co-editor of The Angry Earth

"To understand the landscape of catastrophe in a warming world, get the revelatory new book from Stan Cox and Paul Cox"
— Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine

"I found How the World Breaks intriguing and unexpected in how it uses major disasters to illuminate inequalities of both wealth and power."
— Adam Hochschild, co-founder of Mother Jones and author of King Leopold's Ghost

How the World Breaks is recommended by Scientific American, Climate & Capitalism, and Ralph Nader.

More praise and reviews >

The authors

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Stan Cox is research coordinator at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, where he lives. His other books include Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World and Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing.

Paul Cox is an anthropologist and a writer on development and disaster. He is based in Copenhagen and works all over the world.

Contact the authors: cox@howtheworldbreaks.com

Epilogues

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We are keeping track of further developments to each of the book's stories via a dedicated Tumblr blog.