In the not-so-distant past, the region along the Mississippi River, where Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas rub elbows, has played host to all sorts of seismic shenanigans. In the winter months spanning 1811 to 1812, the New Madrid earthquakes, so named because their epicenters were near the town of New Madrid, Missouri, rattled the area with quakes measuring 7.8, 8.0 and 8.2 on the Richter scale. And according to Jake Page and Charles Officer's The Big One (Houghton Mifflin, $24), a new book detailing the New Madrid quakes and their effects, the devastation was widespread. Whole towns disappeared under rising waters. Trees exploded out of the soil. The ground shook as far away as Montreal. An estimated 1,500 people died.