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Isaac's Storm : A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History Hardcover – August 24, 1999

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Editorial Reviews 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. By the time 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 on 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 neighbors, hoping to ride out the storm. At the center of it all is 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 bit 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

From Publishers Weekly

Torqued by drama and taut with suspense, this absorbing narrative of the 1900 hurricane that inundated Galveston, Tex., conveys the sudden, cruel power of the deadliest natural disaster in American history. Told largely from the perspective of Isaac Cline, the senior U.S. Weather Bureau official in Galveston at the time, the story considers an era when "the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself." As barometers plummet and wind gauges are plucked from their moorings, Larson (Lethal Passage) cuts cinematically from the eerie "eyewall" of the hurricane to the mundane hubbub of a lunchroom moments before it capitulates to the arriving winds, from the neat pirouette of Cline's house amid rising waters to the bridge of the steamship Pensacola, tossed like flotsam on the roiling seas. Most intriguingly, Larson details the mistakes that led bureau officials to dismiss warnings about the storm, which killed over 6000 and destroyed a third of the island city. The government's weather forecasting arm registered not only temperature and humidity but also political climate, civic boosterism and even sibling rivalries. America's patronizing stance toward Cuba, for instance, shut down forecasts from Cuban meteorologists, who had accurately predicted the Galveston storm's course and true scale, even as U.S. weather officials issued mollifying bulletins calling for mere rain and high winds. Larson expertly captures the power of the storm itself and the ironic, often catastrophic consequences of the unpredictable intersection of natural force and human choice. Major ad/promo; author tour; simultaneous Random House audio; foreign rights sold in Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan and the U.K. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (August 24, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609602330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609602331
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (982 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

365 of 372 people found the following review helpful By Richard W. Taylor on January 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I've been a meteorologist for 20 years. Trained by Dr Bill Gray, I've walked in the eye of three hurricanes and flown in they eye of one. One recent book interest has been adventure stories including THE PERFECT STORM, INTO THIN AIR, ENDURANCE, etc. I had shyed away from ISSAC'S STORM because I couldn't imagine what Larson could tell me I didn't already know about the 1900 disaster at Galveston. I shouldn't have waited. Even the most seasoned weather geek will learn from this book. Like Carl Sagan, Larson has a knack for putting complex concepts in layman terms. I took away new simple descriptions of tropical meteorological concepts. However, that is not the genius of this book. Erik Larson did a wonderful job piecing together thousands of bits of information and crafting it all into a gripping read. What's missing? Photographs. Like SHIP OF GOLD IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA, this book is screaming for a companion book of photos. Eric said he waded through over 4,000; 250 of the best would make a super addition to this treatise. Rick Taylor,
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178 of 185 people found the following review helpful By ealovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on July 30, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Are there other folks out there who enjoy reading true accounts of someone else's misfortune, especially if that misfortunate involves a titanic, unstoppable force of nature? A few, really good examples of this true-life disaster genre that I've read over the years are: "The Earth Shook - The Sky Burned" (San Francisco Earthquake)"; "The Coming Plague" (newly emerging diseases); "Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivals" (doomed on Lake Superior, etc.); "Rats, Lice, and History" (a biography of typhus); and "Isaac's Storm" (the Galveston hurricane of 1900).
Erik Larson's book on the deadliest hurricane in history has two main focal points: the hurricane itself; and the human drama of Isaac Cline, the Galveston meteorologist who failed to predict the intensity of the storm. The book meanders through occasional dry stretches of Isaac's pre-storm biography, and through the history of the U.S. Weather Bureau (they were interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the storm), but once it focuses on the events of September 8, 1900 and beyond, I wasn't able to set "Isaac's Storm" down. Especially compelling are the eerie descriptions of what it's like to sail through the eye of a hurricane, and of course the narrative (from the viewpoints of several survivors) of what it was like to be in Galveston before, during, and after the storm. If you are afraid of storms or of water, you might not want to read this book because Erik Larson puts you right there when the storm debris is caving in the side of your house, or when the "tide suddenly rises fully four feet at one bound".
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80 of 85 people found the following review helpful By J. Schramm on October 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Larsen's book is a true account of not only the physical damage a severe hurricane can bring but also how human error (read: stubborness) can cause just as much damage. "Isaac's Storm" chronicles the Galveston hurricane of 1900. Larsen ably follows the path of the hurricane and the paths of the survivors and non-survivors. I enjoyed Larsen's description of the anatomy of a storm, tracing one from the west coast of Africa to possible destruction on the other side of the Atlantic. As I read, I feared the description would get too scientific to follow. Larsen gently leads through the stages of the storm and takes time to explain what is happening and why. Equally fascinating is the pride the people of 1900 exhibit. Consider: 1) A storm would never cross the Gulf of Mexico and strike Galveston. 2) The U.S. Weather Bureau was convinced that Cubans could not forecast a hurricane and caught off all weather warnings from Cuba. 3) Only Washington could declare the storm a "hurricane". The local forecaster (who was dealing with the wind, rain, etc.) could not. I found this book enjoyable, historical and a little chilling. I may have also learned a little more about all of us.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By W. F. Gray on December 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I went in to work sleepy-eyed quite a few mornings because I'm a slow reader and did not want to put this one down. It's a very clever combination of distilled eye-witness accounts, scientific and historical fact, memoirs and conjecture. I did not find the lack of photographs to be a problem, because the author portrays images wonderfully with words. The narrative builds gradually, like a good suspense novel; in the end, the horror of the event is very much evident in the narrative and the memories of those who survived the hurricane of 1900. The story has essentially the same fascination as that of the Titanic. Disaster occurred, and much of it could have been averted had human beings behaved differently. The difference is that this story has not been told repeatedly and does not focus on prominent citizens of the nation. Isaac's Storm, in the right hands, would make a terrific movie. In many ways, this books succeeds in taking the reader back to the year 1900. History at its best.
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By M. Dog on March 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
I thought this was a very interesting and well-written book. For my own tastes, I would have preferred a little less about the office politics of the U.S. Weather Bureau and more about the mighty hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas in 1900. The book doesn't really take off until the monster makes landfall, and then the story gathers speed and interest very quickly. The author, Erik Larson, has a good eye for detail and a good clean way of writing about terribly moving a tragic moments: a child's rocking horse washed up along inland railroad tracks, corpse pyres in the aftermath creating illumination along the beach like "suns about to rise", and many other moments like these flash throughout the second half of the book.
The Galveston Hurricane was a watershed for the advancement of hurricane prediction, as it became an urgent matter to avoid the horrific death tolls such as this storm produced. One aspect of this book is a depiction of the U.S. Weather Bureau during the storm, and it is not a complimentary portrait. It is the author's view that the huge death tolls of this storm might have been avoided if the U.S. Weather Bureau had been willing to listen to the Cuban forecasters, which had predicted the advance of a large hurricane; that in fact, the US Bureau was stubborn and dismissive of the Cuban meteorologists. Yet, as the author writes, the Cubans seemed to call every puff of wind that crossed their island a "hurricane," so how could you take them seriously? I feel the author's need to find fault with the U.S. Bureau for the high death toll is simply an example of the very current need to place the blame, from the comfort of 20/20 hindsight, of every bad event on somebody.
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