Simon Winchester opens the book with a lengthy introduction about himself, starting with his education as a geologist, his decision to become a journalist and then a writer, and how much geology still matters to him and is integrated into his writing.
There are three main chapters, dealing with the subjects of the subtitle. Each one weaves personal experience, stories of true disasters, and the geological science behind the events as well as current science and research.
A brief afterword talks about the "natural" aspect of these events and having respect for the earth. Back matter includes further reading, websites, and films, acknowledgements, and index.
This was much slower-paced than Dirtmeister and it took me longer to get into the book, but once it really got going, in the volcanoes chapter, I found it impossible to put down and I finished the book with a much greater understanding of the science behind these natural disasters. I'm still not planning to live anywhere near them though and have given up my long-cherished dream of eventually moving out to the northwest coast.
Winchester is a good writer and puts together history, current events, and science in a way that's readable and interesting, if a little slow at times. Rather than compare this book to last week's review, I'd say they are for two completely different audiences. Dirtmeister would be a great resource for an earth science unit or for younger kids to browse and try out a few experiments. When the earth shakes is for a more serious reader who is interested in science and history and wants a comprehensive look at these events and the science behind them.
Verdict: If you can only get one of these titles, I'd go with Dirtmeister because it covers a wider range of science and will appeal to a wider audience, but ideally you'd purchase both and recommend When the earth shakes to strong middle grade readers who are interested in natural disasters and the science behind them. Recommended.