How the World Breaks

Life in Catastrophe’s Path, from the Caribbean to Siberia

John McPhee meets Mike Davis in the disaster zone: a bold work of globetrotting reporting revealing how “natural disasters” are anything but natural

“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. It is clearly a battle we cannot afford to lose, and How the World Breaks is the reality jolt we need. I will hold Stan and Paul Cox responsible for that day when we walk towards a new dawn declaring triumph over the madness.”
—Yeb Saño, former climate diplomat and leader of the People’s Pilgrimage

We’ve always lived on a dangerous planet, but its disasters aren’t what they used to be. How the World Breaks gives us a breathtaking new view of crisis and recovery on the unstable landscapes of the Earth’s hazard zones. Father and son authors Stan and Paul Cox take us to the explosive fire fronts of overheated Australia, the future lost city of Miami, the fights over whether and how to fortify New York City in the wake of Sandy, the Indonesian mud volcano triggered by natural gas drilling, and other communities that are reimagining their lives after quakes, superstorms, tornadoes, and landslides.

In the very decade when we should be rushing to heal the atmosphere and address the enormous inequalities of risk, a strange idea has taken hold of global disaster policy: resilience. Its proponents say that threatened communities must simply learn the art of resilience, adapt to risk, and thereby survive. This doctrine obscures the human hand in creating disasters and requires the planet’s most beleaguered people to absorb the rush of floodwaters and the crush of landslides, freeing the world economy to go on undisturbed. The Coxes’ great contribution is to pull the disaster debate out of the realm of theory and into the muck and ash of the world’s broken places. There we learn that change is more than mere adaptation and life is more than mere survival. Ultimately, How the World Breaks reveals why—unless we address the social, ecological, and economic roots of disaster—millions more people every year will find themselves spiraling into misery. It is essential reading for our time.

Praise

“This is an important book. The Coxes with eyes wide deep see beneath the shimmering surface of progress and development. They name our demons, revealing how the assumptions we make for the sake of our behavior are burdening to death the most vulnerable people of the world and accelerating our demise.”
—Godfrey Reggio, director of the Qatsi trilogy
“Think climate change is a far off, distant threat? Then think again. In their must-read new book How the World Breaks, father and son team Stan and Paul Cox travel the world exploring how the devastating impacts of disasters are made notably worse by human-caused climate change.”
—Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor, Penn State University, and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars
“A devastating account of how regular working people show great bravery and generosity in the face of disaster, but also how the sheer number of disasters can overwhelm a society’s ability to recover.”
—Erik Loomis, author of Out of Sight
“I found How the World Breaks intriguing and unexpected in how it uses major disasters to illuminate inequalities of both wealth and power—and cases where a society acted wisely.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of Spain in Our Hearts and other books
“In this period of ecological, social, and economic collapse, How The World Breaks is a must-read for all.”
—Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya
“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, demonstrate who profits as opposed to who pays the price, and illuminate how failed disaster policies have led to horrific duress. A must-read for everyone in all the fields relating to disaster studies, and indeed all who are asking what is breaking apart the world today.”
—Dr. Susanna Hoffman, editor of The Angry Earth and Catastrophe and Culture

News and Reviews

The New Republic

Read The New Republic's excerpt from How the World Breaks