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Exploring Volcanoes

Lawrence Bush
May 10, 2017

Haroun Tazieff, a volcanologist who became one of France's most popular scientists through his films and television documentaries, was born in Warsaw to a Jewish mother and Tatar father on this date in 1914. Tazieff was transplanted to Belgium during his early childhood, and during World War II he served in the Belgian army and then in the French Resistance. He did some exploring alongside Jacques Cousteau, published several popular books, received an Oscar nomination for his 1966 documentary, Le Vulcan Interdit (The Forbidden Volcano), and also helped discover one of the deepest caves in the world, in the Pyrenees, with an underground river that later drove a hydroelectric power station. Tazieff was "a daring explorer who climbed many of the world's most dangerous volcanoes, defying toxic fumes and deadly rains of lava to understand one of nature's most terrifying forces," according to a Reuters obituary in 1998. He was also one of France's early environmentalists, and in 1984 became the country's Secretary of State for the Prevention of Natural and Technological Disasters. He was nevertheless a denier of global climate change as it began to become a worldwide cause in the 1990s, calling it "an outright invention."

"[His] fascination with volcanoes and knowledge of them, often obtained under extremely harrowing conditions, were enthusiastically shared by the French public . . . ; he was considered one of the six most popular personalities in France." --Encyclopaedia Brittanica

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.