The Risk Managers Desk Reference

If you are a risk manager, you probably already have this book on your desk.  Ready for the next time that someone say that some disaster your are asking them to prepare for will never happen.  You then can pull out this resource and show them that something much worse has happened several times before.  This invaluable resource is

The Pessimist’s Guide to History 3e: An Irresistible Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres, and Mayhem – from 14 Billion Years Ago to 2007 by Flexner and Flexner.

With this book, the alert risk manager can perform a comprehensive study of disasters that occured in the 1500’s, for example.  The PGTH (as fans affectionately call it) tells of the following:

  • 1502 – 30 Spanish treasure ships destroyed by hurricane
  • 1514 – Hungarian Peasants Revolt
  • 1520 – Sad Night at Tenochtitlan
  • 1521 – Smallpox and Spanish conquer Aztecs
  • 1524 – Peasants revolt in Germany
  • 1527 – Sack of Rome
  • 1528 – Spanish explorers ships wrecked by hurricane near Florida
  • 1531 – Earthquake hits Lisbon
  • 1545 – Sinking of Mary Rose
  • 1546 – Massacre of Waldenses
  • 1556 – Chinese earthquake kills over 800,000
  • 1559 – Spanish ships sink in hurricane near Tampa
  • 1562 – Massacre near Vassy, France
  • 1570 – Massacre at Novogorod
  • 1572 – Massacre of St. Bartholomew
  • 1574 – Floods in Netherlands kill 20,000 Spanish soldiers
  • 1587 – English colonists at Roanoke disappear
  • 1588 – Spanish Armada defeated
  • 1589 – Assassination of Henry III
  • 1591 – Philippines volcano erupts
  • 1591 – Storms destroy 29 Spanish ships near Florida

Other events include the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  If you are using that piece of data to help to calibrate your loss models, you can think of that as a total loss once in the past 65 million years.

So the next question from your management may be whether if the total loss scenario is a one in 65 million year event and it has not happened in 65 million years, are we due?

And from this data, it looks like hurricanes happen near Florida.  Especially dangerous to Spanish ships.  Tell that to your underwriters.

But they probably have their own copy of the book.

And one very sure sign of a dangerous situation for your company is if you find one of your underwriters with an different book by the Flexner’s, The Optimists Guide to History.

Something important to check for.

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