A big book about big earthquakes that ought to be scarier than it is, by the author of The Kindling Effect (1996). The New Madrid Seismic Zone isn't something most people worry about when they worry about earthquakes. After all, it's nowhere near the dreaded San Andreas Fault--or, for that matter, even in California. Deceptively quiet, it lurks instead in middle America, stretching for 140 miles over parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and other heartland states. But the fact is, three of the most potent eruptions on record in North America have taken place there. True, that was back in 1811-12; not a great deal has happened to menace anyone since. And then, suddenly, the wait is over: a monster quake comes crashing through the Richter scale to flatten most of the Midwest. Bad as that is, the real concern is the next one, ""the Big One,"" expected to provoke ""the gravest crisis the country has faced since the Civil War,"" as an advisor informs President Nathan Ross. Even as it is, the cities are burning, and panicky citizens are looting, scavenging, and gunning one another down (ironically) in an all-out effort to survive. Then a corps of embattled seismologists, desperate to find a way of thwarting Mother Nature, arrives at an answer almost as horrific as the problem: a mini-nuclear explosion to serve as a deterrent. There's disagreement, conflict--the righteous seismologists battle their selfish, career-driven peers, while the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Meantime, despite riot, rampage, and havoc, hunky seismologist John Atkins still manages to connect with luscious seismologist Elizabeth Holleran, and the earth moves for all of the usual good, old reasons. Research receives the bulk of Hernon's attention, while characterization gets but a lick and a promise. Which means the science convinces and the scientists don't. Which means 8.4 rates a middling 4.8.