TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

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May 14, 2012

Corbin man tackles natural disasters, population in book

CORBIN — By Charlotte Underwood / Staff Writer

Ever wonder why humans populate the areas that they do, regardless of natural disasters and other forces of nature that affect those areas? Corbin resident Barry Vann answers some of these questions and many others in his recently published book, “The Forces of Nature: Our Quest to Conquer The Planet.”

 The book, which was released by Prometheus Books in March, is basically about population shifts over the years and man’s “precarious relationship with climate change and geography.”

Originally from Clinton, Tenn., Vann has been a professor of Geography at the University of the Cumberlands since 2008.

“Forces of Nature” is actually Vann’s seventh book, but one that is very close to his heart. When he got the idea to write the book in early May of 2009, Vann was actually going through a period of writer’s block.

“I was having lunch with my good friend and golf buddy, Chin Teck Tan, who is a business professor at the university, when I told him I was experiencing a little bit of writer’s block. He suggested I write about geography because as he said, ‘I make it so sexy,’” Vann said with a good-natured laugh. Taking his friend’s advice, Vann went home and wrote the first couple of sentences on May 9, 2009, and finally completed the book in Sept. 2011. Though the book took him about two years to finish, the ideology that went into it had actually been years in the works.

In 1983, Vann took an atmospheric science course at Roane State Community College. During that course, his professor talked about how atmospheric science affected the human population and, in Vann’s own words, this book had really been on the “back burner” for him all these years.

“The book is about so much more than just people and where they choose to populate and live. It is also about how they adapt and cope with nature and how these adaptations and reactions are affected by religious and secular beliefs as well,” Vann said, citing man’s common tendency to believe that natural disasters and forces of nature were a direct result of punishment from God.

“Even secular people believe that nature punishes us for not living in harmony with it—really it is not a lot different than what our ancient ancestors thought,” Vann said.

Vann said he thought local residents would find the chapter on tornados particularly interesting as well as the chapter regarding the Tennessee Valley Authority and the its affects on Appalachian geography.

Through the approximate two-year process of writing the book, Vann said he came to several great revelations and deep insights to the human condition.

Vann discusses the rise of technology and, though it helps humanity cope with hostile climates, it often provides a false sense of security.

“Some forces we have some control over, while others, such as earthquakes, we have no control over,” Vann said. The book looks at natural disasters throughout history and how the population centers were affected by these forces of nature when they occurred. Vann said he hoped that the book was a learning tool that could possibly help warn of some of the devastation of natural disasters in the future as the population centers continue to grow and change.

“Our populations continue to grow and grow in dangerous areas — writing this book has really been a blessing for me, a way of looking to the future,” Vann said, explaining that by looking at where we have been, “we can see where we are going,”

 “Forces of Nature” is available at Amazon.com, where Vann has a web page of his own. The book will also be on sale at Books-A-Million in Corbin, where Vann will have a book signing in the upcoming weeks.

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