My favorite volcano books

I've gotten a number of questions about volcano books as of late, so I thought I'd write a little post detailing my favorite volcano-related tomes, mostly pitched towards people without a geology-background, but some technical books for those of you who want the gory details (and be sure, they can be very, very gory).


Pumice from the Newberry Flow of the Devil's Hills scattered on the soil near South Sister, Oregon. Image by Erik Klemetti, September 2008.

Anyway, here we go!

General volcanology:
- Teach Yourself Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis by David Rothery (Teach Yourself Series, 2007) - The first edition was merely called Teach Yourself Volcanoes, but the 2004 Sumatran tsunami caused the 2007 edition to expand, however 75% of the book is still on volcanoes. Very clear and straightforward with all the information on process, monitoring and hazards that any volcanophile should know.
- Fire Mountains of the West by Stephen L. Harris (Mountain Press, 2005 - Third Edition) - One of the best marriages of the science and lore of volcanoes, albeit only on the Cascade Range volcanoes (plus Long Valley).
- Vulcan's Fury by Alwyn Scarth (Yale University Press, 1999) - I've used this book as the text for my "Volcanoes and Human Culture" class, mostly because it gets the science correct, has a lot of historical records/text and is a fun read. It covers a series of important volcanic eruptions since the dawn of volcanology up to Pinatubo in 1991.
- Melting The Earth by Haraldur Sigurdsson (Oxford University Press, 1999) - The author's name should be familiar to many of you, and Dr. Sigurdsson put together quite a yarn on the development of volcanology as an intellectual pursuit through the ages.

Technical Books/Textbooks:
- Volcanoes : Second Edition by Peter Francis and Clive Oppenheimer (Oxford University Press, 2004) - The first edition of this text was the book I used when I took Volcanology and this new edition updated by Clive Oppenheimer keeps the very-readable tone set by the late Peter Francis. In my opinion, the best and easiest to read introductory volcanology textbook.
- Volcanic Successions : Modern & Ancient by Ray Cas and John Wright (Chapman & Hall, 1988) - If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of physical volcanology, this is the book for you. We're talking entire chapters on subaqueous pyroclastic flows and deep-sea ash layers. A classic.
- Encyclopedia of Volcanoes edited by Haraldur Sigurdsson (Academic Press, 2000) - Now we're talking "gory details". This volume is a mere 1418 pages of the fine details of the science from understanding viscosity of magma to volcanoes in literature and film. It really is the "be all and end all" of volcanology, but not for the faint of heart.
- Igneous Petrogenesis by Marjorie Wilson (Unwin Hyman, 1989) - For those of you who want to know more about the processes that drive volcanoes, both tectonically and magmatically, this text book is a great resource. It deals with the processes of magmatism and how we understand in the framework of global tectonics. It is a little old now (and dying for a new edition), but still invaluable.
- Volcanoes of North America - United States and Canada editied by Charles Wood and Jurgen Kienle (Univ. of Cambridge Press, 1990) - Another book in need of a new edition (and I seem to remember there is one in the works), but for those of you in North America, you can find almost every active/dormant volcanic edifice in the continent.

Hope this helps some of you who want to delve more into the science. Feel free to suggest any of your favorites here as well.

More like this

Hi Erik:
Can I add one of those I have found useful (in fact I'm surprised you didn't include it)
VOLCANOES OF THE WORLD by Simkin and Siebert (Geoscience Press 1994)
OK it only goes up to 1993, and much of the content is also on the GVP website, but there's a lot of information in there. And it's at a more reasonable price (for those who don't have access to a college library) than books like the 'Encyclopedia', which is beyond my pocket, sadly :o(

Excellent!!! Thanks very much, Erik! They have all gone onto my Amazon wishlist ;-)

Mike Don - Yeah, with all the info on the GVP website, the book is a little out of date. However, I'm fairly confident that a new edition is in the pipeline for that book ... so that will definitely worth checking out.

I was checking out Geology teacher Callan Bentley's blog at:

He pointed to an online dictionary at:
About the online dictionary he wrote:
â* If you don't have a copy of AGI's Dictionary of Geological Terms, a good resource for looking things up online is this Dictionary of Mining, Mineral, and Related Terms sponsored by Hacettepe University in Turkey.â

I think I will bookmark the site for myself.

By Thomas Donlon (not verified) on 20 Aug 2009 #permalink

'Volcanism' by Hans Ulrich Schmincke. Probably the best book I have on volcanism in general.

By Gijs de Reijke (not verified) on 20 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'm so glad Anita made me buy the encyclopedia of volcanoes. It is such a handy go-to reference for a wanna-be volcano researcher. Plus, it is handy for weight-lifting workouts.

I know this is a technical list, but I can definitely recommend Shusako Endo's aptly named novel 'Volcano', translated from the Japanese 'Kazan'. Endo based his fictional 'Akadake' volcano on Sakurajima and was reportedly lowered from a helicopter into the active crater for research! It's reviewed by Sigurdsson in Encyclopedia of Volcanoes as the "geologist's novel" so if that isn't a selling point...

here's another volcano book to consider adding to the list: Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Somin Winchester. Incidentally, the the 126th anniversary of this eruption is six days away!

what would be the best book for relating Volcanoes and/to their tectonic setting ???, some semi-gory detail is acceptable ;-)

Robert Somerville

By robert somerville (not verified) on 21 Aug 2009 #permalink

My favorite is Nyiragongo: The Forbidden Volcano by Haroun Tazieff.

Apart from up-to-date texts, some classics are worth reading in themselves. As a teenager, I was enthralled by Robert Griggs classic 'Valley Of Ten Thousand Smokes'. The science is dated now, -it was published in 1922- and they were a general scientific expedition (Griggs himself was a botanist, of all things) trying to make sense of an infernally complex magmatic plumbing system..but it's a cracking read and lit my interest in volcanoes

I recommend John McPhee's "The Control of Nature". Only the first third is about volcanoes, but the plain fact is, it my second favorite book to read and re-read, ever.

By david fitzsimmons (not verified) on 22 Aug 2009 #permalink

I just watched some of the Flash animations at this site with my son.

A little earlier I just watched one of the animations that dealt with volcanoes and volcanism. It had some helpful information on magma formation that helped answered my earlier questions.

One thing I learned (or relearned) is that as a very hot rock comes closer to the surface and depressurizes that it can melt as the pressure subsides. So the same rock that is solid at depth can become magma if it rises to the surface. (It is just one thing that I learned at this site - watching the volcano and volcanism flash presentation. It also did a great job describing crystallization of magma and how the chemical signature of magma changes as some parts of crystallizing magma form before other parts. For example like in granite different elements will crystallize together at lower of higher temperatures. And also rising magma can dislodge pieces of other rocks that it comes in contact with and incorporate them into magma. Some of the flash videos also show the depths and temperatures that magma can form at.

I am not at all against buying books - and have spent a lot on books over the years. But, right now with just limited employment and lot's of bills - free has a strong appeal to it.

I gave this online free book on geochemistry a read within the last year. I think some of the concepts in it are helpful.
The book is by William M. White of Cornell University and it says that the book is to be eventually published by John Hopkins University Press.

Those are just a few things I've come across to learn about volcanoes and geology while on a tight budget. (And I haven't even finished reading the basic college geology textbook (just a few years old) that I picked up for a quarter from a church rummage sale a few months back.

And (off-topic) the newly established need for vitamin d is now thought by many researchers to be the most important health discovery of the past twenty years. A doubleblind study and numerous other studies show that adequate vitamin d levels slash the rate of cancer cases by more than half. This is only about half the importance of vitamin d - but many of you are already aware of that. I am not recommending anyone get sunburned.

Vitamin d is linked to preventing autoimmune diseases, better physical balance and strength and better mental ability and lower death rates, and is in some ways beneficial in preventing colds and the flu.

It is just significant enough to warrant an off-topic post - I'll be pleased if the geologists here stay as healthy as possible!

By Thomas Donlon (not verified) on 22 Aug 2009 #permalink

mamamamamama volcano for manar

I recommend 'Fundamentals of Physical Volcanology' by Liz Parfitt and Lionel Wilson (2008). From the title, you would say this book is highly theoretical, but in fact, it's very hands on.

By Geurt Schimmel (not verified) on 15 Jan 2010 #permalink

21st Century Complete Guide to Volcanoes: Huge and Comprehensive Collection of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Documents with Extensive Coverage of Volcano Monitoring, Research Projects, Volcanoes Around the World, Maps, Tables, Scientific and Threat Data-¿Technical and Scientific Reference (DVD-ROM) [DVD-ROM]

This incredible DVD-ROM is packed with over 82,000 pages, much of it reproduced using Adobe Acrobat PDF software - allowing direct viewing on Windows and Macintosh systems. The disc contains nearly 4 gigabytes of material in over 21,000 files!

Contents include thousands of spectacular photographs, information on hazards and hazard reports, monitoring data, news, research projects, and very extensive individual coverage of volcanoes in the Cascade Range, Yellowstone, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Price: $35.95…