Isaac's Storm: The Drowning of Galveston, 8 September 1900

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9780007292110: Isaac's Storm: The Drowning of Galveston, 8 September 1900

Galveston, Texas, 8 September 1900. It's another fine day in the Gulf according to Isaac Cline, chief observer of the new US Weather Bureau, but one day later, 6-10,000 people were dead, wiped out by the biggest storm the coast of America had ever witnessed. Isaac Cline was confident of his ability to predict the weather: he had new technology at his disposal, 'perfect science', and, like America itself, he was sure that he was in control of his world, that the new century would be the American century, that the future was man's to command. And the coastal city of Galveston was a prosperous, enthusiastic place - a jewel of progress and contentment, a model for the new century. The storm blew up in Cuba. It was, in modern jargon, an X-storm - an extreme hurricane - and it did not circle around the Gulf of Mexicao as storms routinely did. On 8 September 1900 it ploughed straight into Galveston. It was the meteorological equivalent of the Big One. It was to be the worst natural disaster ever to befall America to this day: between six and ten thousand people died, including Isaac Cline's wife and unborn child. With them died Cline's and America's hubris: the storm had simply blown them away. Told with a novelist's skill this is the true story of an awful and terrible natural catastrophe.

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Review:

On September 8, 1900, a massive hurricane slammed into Galveston, Texas. A tidal surge of some four feet in as many seconds inundated the city, while the wind destroyed thousands of buildings. When the water and winds subsided, entire streets had disappeared and as many as 10,000 were dead--making this the worst natural disaster in America's history.

In Isaac's Storm, Erik Larson blends science and history to tell the story of Galveston, its people, and the hurricane that devastated them. Drawing from hundreds of personal reminiscences of the storm, Larson follows individuals through the fateful day and the storm's aftermath. There's Louisa Rollfing, who begged her husband August not to go into town the morning of the storm; the Ursuline Sisters at St. Mary's orphanage who tied their charges to lengths of clothesline to keep them together; Judson Palmer, who huddled in his bathroom with his family and neighbours, hoping to ride out the storm. At the centre of it all was Isaac Cline, employee of the nascent Weather Bureau, and his younger brother--and rival weatherman-- Joseph. Larson does an excellent job of piecing together Isaac's life and reveals that Isaac was not the quick- thinking hero he claimed to be after the storm ended. The storm itself, however, is the book's true protagonist--and Larson describes its nuances in horrific detail.

At times the prose is a touch too purple, but Larson is engaging and keeps the book's tempo rising in pace with the wind and waves. Overall, Isaac's Storm recaptures at a time when, standing in the first year of the century, Americans felt like they ruled the world--and that even the weather was no real threat to their supremacy. Nature proved them wrong. --Sunny Delaney

Review:

Gripping, informative and imaginative’
New Statesman

‘Roof slates became spinning blades… a timely and chillingly detailed reminder of what nature can do.’
Mail on Sunday

‘Mixing individual narratives of the townsfolk and a history of the Weather Bureau with terrific descriptions the evolving storm, Larson cooks up an awesome tale.‘
Daily Telegraph

‘Dickensian… A scholarly and factual book that reads like fiction.’
Independent

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