My Copy: 9780375708275 (image by sciencebookmix.com)
I can’t tell if my choices are oddly appropriate, or I’m just a morbid little turd. Harvey was raging over our heads and the torrential downpour could drive anyone a little nuts, and yet I pick up this book again to read during the storm.
I’ll chalk this up to oddly appropriate. Harvey made a good soundtrack when I had light to read by.
Isaac’s Storm is the bestselling book about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane that killed approximately 6,000 people. But it’s about more than the events of that day and the body count–it’s about the weatherman who lived there, how he came to be there, and the forces that led to the death toll.
I had never read Erik Larson before, and at first I was wondering at his writing choices…namely how he was setting up events. I wondered why we were talking about the Weather Bureau’s function or other odd things like the state legislated proper-pronunciation for “Arkansas” (yes, that was a thing).
Then I realized he was writing a time machine for us, to put us in the place of people and the time, and doing it VERY well. I mean, how many times have I read something–and probably you, too–where you wanted to say, “but geez, why didn’t they just do _____.” This book anticipates those questions and gives some good answers.
Isaac Cline became the chief meteorologist in Galveston and the book goes between life in Galveston, his own life and career, the Weather Bureau’s rocky history of being slung between science and politics, hubris, arrogance, and too many things to name.
This book also does well in keeping the chronology, making sure to remind us that we haven’t gotten to the end yet, that the storm is still coming.
I’ve read this book twice and believe you could have a drinking game with it. Every time somebody makes some arrogant statement, take a shot. You’d be sleeping before the storm hit.
Isaac’s Storm is my first Erik Larson book, but definitely not my last. I have plenty of his other books on my shelf, but haven’t read them just yet. That’ll change soon. This is the best example of creative nonfiction that I can remember, not some dry chronology and facts, but an immersive work that lets you visualize what’s going on. Larson’s command of language is the icing on the cake.
When I start writing nonfiction again, I’d love to have his skill.
And I can’t help it–the final sentence leaves an impression that always makes me shudder when I read it. The image… ooh.
Isaac’s Storm reminds you that these were people who lived, with flaws and failings, grace and decency, all in another time when meteorology was finally becoming respectable…but what a rocky start, especially when ambitious, arrogant men drop the ball.
I’m definitely keeping this book and passing it around to others. This is one of my loaner-books, a great work of nonfiction that deserves a shot.
2 thoughts on “Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson”
A wonderful description of Larson’s work: “creative nonfiction.” I’ve read several of his books. So far, The Devil in the White City is my favorite. (About the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair… and a serial killer.) I will be sure to read Isaac’s Storm. Thanks for the review. Hope you are experiencing fairer days soon.
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