Afine introduction to a spectacular geological phenomenon.

A London-based science journalist with a doctorate in volcanology, Andrews chronicles his interviews with numerous working scientists as well as his travels to observe half a dozen volcanoes in action. He pauses regularly to explain their mechanics, history, and (often inaccurate) popular mythology and to note famous eruptions in the past. The author begins with the catastrophic 1902 Mount Pelée eruption on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which killed 30,000. Then Andrews moves on to the more familiar Mount Kilauea in Hawaii, whose massive, well-publicized 2018 lava outpouring killed no one but destroyed hundreds of houses before flowing into the ocean and adding several hundred acres to the island. That eruption, writes the author, “reminded scientists that volcanoes are still more enigmatic than they are familiar [and] reminded the world that volcanic eruptions are both the privilege and price many pay for existing on a living planet whose innards are still burning.” After a few other examples, including a genuine supervolcano that makes up the entire Yellowstone National Park, Andrews delivers an impressive geologic education that includes illuminating lessons on plate tectonics, deep sea eruptions, and the origin of life itself. At this point, less than halfway through the text, the author leaves the Earth and devotes the remaining chapters to the moon, a dead world full of primordial volcanic features; Mars, home to the biggest volcanoes known to science; and Venus, fiercely hot and covered with basalt and awash in volcanoes, most likely active. Andrews does not ignore other solar system bodies, many of which display a dazzling variety of fiery geology. It turns out that forming any celestial body larger than a moonlet requires volcanism—one bit of knowledge among countless others in this fascinating scientific adventure.

Everything you ever wanted to know about volcanoes in expert hands.