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Fire Mountain: How 30,000 Perished and One Man Survived the World's Worst Volcanic Disaster Hardcover – July 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In an excellent work of history and social commentary, Morgan chronicles the events leading up to and the aftermath of the devastating 1902 eruption of Mount Pel‚e on the Caribbean island of Martinique, along with the life of the local city's only known survivor, a laborer named Ludger Sylbaris. The blast destroyed the city of St. Pierre and its 30,000 inhabitants in a matter of hours. Morgan, both a seasoned English journalist and a playwright, accordingly combines a nose for meticulous detail with a storytelling flair, giving his account an intense personal angle that enlivens the history. His introduction to turn-of-the-century St. Pierre is told from the point of view of a visiting photographer, and it is replete with the crisp images characteristic of Morgan's style: "He sits under a burning blue sky, watching n‚gociants dicker over quarts and kilos, eighths and sixteenths. He is fascinated by a sack of raw sugar, sweating syrup from every pore.... There is a constant reek of coal fires, of sun-roasted brick and rotten meat." Morgan has an equally good eye for the nuances of the colonial island's relationship with France, the political shortsightedness that allowed many warning signs to be ignored and the inevitable opportunists who took advantage of the situation afterward. Those include Barnum & Bailey's Circus, who hired Sylbaris and touted him as "the Most Marvelous Man in the World." The idea of him stripping off his shirt to reveal his puckered skin to onlookers at the behest of a sideshow barker is just one of the scenes that reverberate from this engrossing book.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


On the morning of 8 May 1902 the 30,000 residents of Saint Pierre on the Caribbean island of Martinique sheltered in the city's cathedral after Mont Pel e, the island's dormant volcano, came alive. But within minutes a tremendous eruption from the volcano utterly destroyed Saint Pierre and all its inhabitants - save for one solitary man, Ludger Sylbaris, a labourer who had spent the previous night in jail and who after the disaster toured America with Barnum's circus. Morgan provides a vivid recreation of that dreadful day combined with an equally evocative picture of 19th century life in the colony aided by contemporary photographs and illustrations. A thrilling narrative bound to win many readers on the word-of-mouth grapevine. And Morgan will present a TV programme on the 100th anniversary of the disaster. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st Ed. (U.S.) edition (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341990
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341996
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,564,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on July 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Science, history and human tragedy collide in a heart-stopping tale of natural catastrophe." - from the dust jacket.
Author Peter Morgan makes a canny choice in his book "Fire Mountain" by focusing on the life of the single survivor of the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee in Martinique in 1902 that completely destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre. By telling the story of the incredible survival of Ludger Sylbaris and his subsequent career as a sideshow oddity in the Barnum & Bailey circus, Morgan warmly humanizes what otherwie would have just been another run-of-the-mill disaster story.
Morgan carefully reconstructs the events leading up to the destruction of Saint-Pierre, describing the city and the colorful personalities in what was then a French colonial town. Called the "Paris of the Caribbean," it was caught totally unprepared when Pelee began erupting a few months before the final disaster. The residents convinced themselves that they were far enough away to be safe before the mountain exploded in much the same manner as Mount St. Helens, utterly erasing the city from the map.
In the aftermath, resucuers picking over the rubble made a startling discovery. Ludger Sylbaris somehow managed to survive the disaster in a solitary confinement cell in the local jail. Though horribly burned, he became an instant celebrity. When Barnum & Bailey made him a part of the so-called "Greatest Show on Earth," he became the first black man ever to grace the stage of the segregated show.
Morgan is an excellent histroian and a good storyteller, and the book contains numerous photographs and illustrations to help the reader. At just over 230 pages of narrative, this is a highly readable and very enjoyable work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in two sittings,barely able to put it down. Peter Morgan's description of the ill-fated Saint Pierre painted pictures in my mind. The horror of that fateful day in 1902 I felt was portrayed in an honest yet respectful manner. The only thing I was disapointed with was that there wasn't as much information on Ludger Sylbaris as I had anticipated. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in history or volcanoes.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a book I could not put down and have read over multiple times. If you like fact based dramas and have an interest in volcanos, then this should be right up your alley. If Hollywood or better yet PBS made a movie based on this book and stayed close to the author's narrative, it would be one of the better movies of all time. And it really happened !
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