Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes.  Its largest eruption in history happened in 2018 when lava erupted from the lower east rift zone east of the small town of Pahoa.  The eruption lasted for 94 days, from May 3 to August 5. Another summit eruption occurred and formed a lava lake that lasted for 163 days from December 20, 2020, to May 23, 2021.  Kilauea has been erupting again in the summit region since September 29, 2021.

Kilauea volcano lava fountain

Standing near a lava fountain, Kilauea volcano, 1983.

Kilauea volcano lava entering the sea

Nighttime view of lava encountering the sea, 2008.

Kilauea volcano lava flow

Lava flow at Kilauea, 2016.

Thomas Jaggar — Father of Volcanology

Thomas Jaggar Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

On July 1, 1912, Thomas Jaggar, then the head of the geology department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, started the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at Kilauea volcano.

For the next 28 years, until his retirement in 1940, he lived and worked at Kilauea, studying the eruptions and devising methods to record activity.  He learned how to measure the high temperature of molten lava, to locate earthquakes and to record the gradual up-and-down movement of the ground surface as molten magma moved within the volcano.

He also designed and built two of the world's first amphibious vehicles, his designs used as the basis for the beach-landing crafts used by the United States military during the Second World War.

But his greatest contribution was making the world aware of the hazards posed by volcanoes and earthquakes.  Today nearly a billion people live in areas threatened by such natural forces.  The methods used today to evaluate such hazards and to warn people of a possible catastrophe are based on the work of Thomas Jaggar.

Thomas Jaggar, 1915.

The Last Volcano

From Yellowstone in Wyoming to Vesuvius in Italy, from the volcanic island of Bogoslof in Alaska to Sakurajima in Japan, and, finally, to the massive volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa in the Hawaiian Islands—The Last Volcano tells the story of the incredible journey by Thomas Jaggar, the founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and the father of volcanology, to understand the power of volcanic eruptions.

Mixed with tales of myths and rituals, as well as the author's own experiences, The Last Volcano is the story of the science and romance of volcanoes.  It tells why some people choose to live their lives by confronting nature in its most magnificent form—at the edge of an erupting volcano.

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Kilauea volcano book The Last Volcano
Kilauea volcano audiobook The Last Volcano

Audiobook, 9 CDs 10.5 hours

Hardcover and Paperback, 309 pages

A Man, A Romance and
the Quest to Understand
Nature's Most Magnificent Fury

Editorial reviews:


A lively biography of the forgotten father of volcanology.  Dvorak is a great storyteller with a keen eye for details.  There are parts in The Last Volcano where Mr. Dvorak's descriptions of the intense heat almost singe the page.  Riveting.

     —The Wall Street Journal

Bubbling and sloughing under the surface of John Dvorak's terrific new book The Last Volcano is the quietly terrifying reminder that we somehow manage to live on a tectonically active planet.  A remarkable story.  Every time Kilauea has bubbled and frothed and erupted since then, researchers on site have been indebted to Thomas Jaggar whether they knew it or not. . . . An engaging, informative book . . . 

     —Christian Science Monitor

The story of Thomas Jaggar and Isabel Maydwell is an inspiring tale of devotion, both to science and to each other.

     —Scientific American

. . . makes one appreciate the fearless nature required for a life of volcanology.

     —The American Scholar

. . . makes us feel the excitement, the fear, and the intense heat of a lava flow.

     —Kirkus (starred review)

Dvorak brings [Jaggar] to life in a richly researched narrative as thrilling as his topic, creating the sort of popular science history that flies off the shelves.


Captivatingly chronicles the life and times of this vanguard scientist [Thomas Jaggar].

     —Science News

For Dvorak, Kilauea is the last volcano, the one that will keep on erupting long after anyone who remembers Jaggar is gone.  Fueled by a fire hose of molten rock from deep within the Earth, the volcano will continue to bubble and spurt and flame.  And that's just how Thomas Jaggar—despite all he'd seen—would have wanted it.

     —The Dallas Morning News

Dvorak layers mini-portraits in chronologically complex strata.  Volcanos can seem like a distant threat.  But Dvorak raises the stakes by examining a wider geologic network of earthquakes and tsunamis—and a human network of scientists who truly saved lives.

     —The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)