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Understanding Catastrophe examines the immense and varied impact that catastrophic change can have on the development of life on earth. Opening with a remarkable account of supernovae and the nature of stellar catastrophe, it then examines the way evolution itself can proceed through genetic jumps of catastrophic proportions. The primal forces of the earth, manifested in such natural catastrophes as earthquakes and cyclones, and the devastating impact these can have even today on human populations across the world receive extended scrutiny as does the power of famine historically in determining the future of humankind. To conclude, a fascinating final chapter on changing medical and social attitudes to epidemic diseases such as tuberculosis offers - in the age of AIDS particularly - some unsettling insights into our fundamental incapacity when confronted by major threats to life and health.