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This review is from: Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (Paperback)
It is rare indeed to find an author with the talent that Erik Larson has shown in writing this book. In writing historical accounts, many authors do a fine job of research and tell their story in a very readable manner, but seldom does an author do as well in both areas as does Larson. In reading this account of the great hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas in September of 1900 I was often reminded of David McCullough's riveting account of the Johnstown flood that preceded this disaster by eleven years. An author can't keep much higher company than that.
This is not only the story of a hurricane though, it is also the story of Isaac Cline and to some extent the story of Issac's employer the national weather bureau. As is often the case with men of science, Cline allowed himself to believe that science had an answer for everything and Mother Nature taught him a lesson in reality, the hard way. Larson explores Cline's mistakes and leaves the reader with no doubt that the head of the Galveston weather bureau bears some responsibility for the thousands of deaths caused by the hurricane. There is much more blame however to be shared by a group of smug bureaucrats that tried to discredit Cuban forecasters who had accurately predicted the hurricane's path. Cline accepted his responsibility while the others simply refused to admit error.
Larson takes the reader through Cline's career as well as the events leading up to the storm. The tension builds as the reader, who knows what is coming is then introduced to several citizens of Galveston. The author then leads the reader through the storm in riveting accounts told by survivors, especially those to whom he has introduced the reader earlier. One can sense in Larson's words the joy of children playing in the rising water and the fascination of the adults as the waves destroy a series of bathhouses. Then the reader feels the emotions begin to change as fear starts to creep into people's minds. The terror that these people begin to feel is so well communicated that the reader is caught up in the storm with it's victims and I found myself unable to put the book down until I found out what happened to these people.
After the storm passes, Larson works his literary magic yet again in describing the carnage and the sadness left behind. The reader will almost mourn with the survivors as they try to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Each and every story becomes a testimonial to the spirit of those who survived the storm and will inspire as well as sadden. I really regret that I waited so long to read this book for it is one of the best works I have read in a long time.