The Last Day
Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755
By Nicholas Shrady
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670018512, 240pp.)
Publication Date: April 10, 2008
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A riveting history of how the cataclysmic Lisbon earthquake shook the religious and intellectual foundations of Enlightenment Europe
Along with the volcanic destruction of Pompeii and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Lisbon quake of 1755 is one of the most destructive natural disasters ever recorded. After being jolted by a massive quake, Lisbon was then pounded by a succession of tidal waves, and finally reduced to ash by a fire that raged for five straight days.
In The Last Day, Nicholas Shrady provides not only a vivid account of this horrific disaster but also a stimulating survey of the many shock waves it sent throughout Western civilization. When news of the quake spread, it inspired both a lurid fascination in the popular imagination of Europe and an intellectual debate about the natural world and God's place in human affairs. Voltaire, Alexander Pope, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among other eminent figures, took up the disaster as a sort of cause célèbre and a vehicle to express Enlightenment ideas. More practically, the Lisbon quake led to the first concerted effort at disaster control, modern urban planning, and the birth of seismology. The Last Day is popular history writing at its best and will appeal to readers of Simon Winchester's Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World.