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Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives

Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives - Elizabeth Rusch, Tom Uhlman So this is the third title I've reviewed in HMH's Scientists in the Field series. Based on this sample, I really like the series.

What I don't like is how HMH is hitching its wagon to the dim star of the Common Core State Standards. The standards movement has little to recommend itself to anyone. There is no research to show that this reform movement has accomplished anything that wouldn't have happened just by leaving schools alone. Standards linked with testing have only created more problems and taken our country's children further from learning either content or useful processes for the past 20 years. CCSS was just a non-educators' stab at repackaging crap. No matter what kind of paper you wrap it in, it's still crap.

I was disappointed to read that Elizabeth Rusch has been caught up in this short-sighted (and likely short-lived 'accountability' exercise). There are more than ten states now working to distance themselves from CCSS and repeal their connections to CCSS and PARCC, and this before they have even gained much traction at all. One of my editors asked us not to reference CCSS in our upcoming edition because of how it is not gaining the momentum for a comprehensive rollout everyone anticipated. And we don't need a national curriculum anyway.

But the content in this series is still great! If the CCSS were just given to authors and publishing houses instead of to testing companies and school districts and kids, maybe we'd see more high-quality series like this. I was riveted by this book, and the narrative thread following three major eruptions (four, including the base narrative of St Helens) kept me moving forward from chapter to chapter. It was written like a cliffhanger. The scientists are the main characters in each set of chapters, and Rusch brilliantly sets the non-US scientists at the forefront of the narrative! An excellent multicultural text.

The fact that Rusch and Uhlman went to Indonesia to do live research during the eruption of Merapi was absolutely amazing. Upshot: I am sitting here in 2013 reading an obviously well-produced (i.e., time-consuming) book with research that reaches only back to 2010-2011. This kind of currency is extremely rare! I didn't follow Merapi when it was happening, so all this information was new to me, and I felt parochial for having only sketchy awareness that something so significant was happening just a couple of years ago.

Uhlman's photographs throughout the book were breathtaking, and the recentness of the Indonesia/Merapi set made it even more so. There are very few stock companies in the photo credits, and more scientific and news organizations, along with Uhlman and even three by Rusch. This lends the book even more credibility as a journalistic piece.