Customer Review

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Island in a Storm: A Rising Sea, a Vanishing Coast, and a Nineteenth-Century Disaster that Warns of a Warmer World (Hardcover)
At first glance, you would wonder as to the timeliness of a book addressing a devastating storm which occurred in 1856 and slammed into the Gulf of Mexico and in particular, a small resort island; Isle Derniere. After reading just the first chapter of this rather unique and amazing work, the wonder will disappear as you, the reader will start recognizing quite familiar situations, granted, often stored in the back of the mind, but never the less there. The message of this work is so many different ways.

This work offers so very much in so few pages. It is like reading two or three books simultaneously. Not only is the story absolutely captivating, but the facts, trivial and important, fly fast and furious. We receive a wonderful lesson in history as the author takes us to antebellum Louisiana, giving the reader glimpses in the lives of the rich sugarcane plantation owners, politicians, developers, Riverboat Captains, the poor working people, the horrid and unworkable institution of slavery, transportation of the time, attitudes, dress, diet and so much more. A history of New Orleans is served up which is a separate and fascinating study unto its own. Along with the history lesson, the reader receives lessons in river, ocean and weather dynamics along with a life and death story of an island. Behind this entire work though, the author has woven dire warnings; warnings that need to be heeded. Have we changed all that much since the mid 1800s?

Basically, this is the story of Isle Derniere, one of the various barrier islands off of the coast of Louisiana which on August 10, 1856 was hit and demolished and more or less completely whipped out by a hurricane. It is the story of the rich vacationers there and their slaves as they tried desperately to survive. Along with these unfortunate folk, we have a number of nearby ships which are suffering the same fate. Through the authors pen we are served a wonderful, vivid and delicious profile of many individuals; the good, the bad and the ugly. The reader must keep in mind that this is not in any sense of the word a novel. This is a true story which has been meticulously reconstructed by the author through detailed research. Fortunately for us, there were survivors of this disaster and much documentation and first hand accounts are available to which the author has had access. The author has perfectly captured the essence of the times.

Now we have here even extra bonuses! Abby Sallenger has a PhD in Marine Science from the University of Virginia and was the former chief scientist of the U.S. Geological Survey's Center for Coastal Geology. He is currently leading the USGS storm Impact research group. Sound pretty boring, huh? When I first open this book I must admit that my eyes did a bit of a roll and I let out a little moan of despair. Goodness was I wrong! No dry thesis here, no, no, no! No ramblings of a musty academic are to be found in these pages! This work is as much of a page turner as many a novel I have read! This guy, Sallenger, can write! He is also an obvious natural story teller. I can truthfully favorably compare his skills to that of David McCullough and Stephen Ambrose as a writer of popular history. It does not stop there though. While I am far from an expert in Marine Science, History of Louisiana or meteorology, I have, over the past 50 years, done a tremendous amount of reading in these areas and traveled through the geographical areas featured in this work, so when I say that this book is well researched, it is not an empty statement just to fill up space...this writer knows his stuff!

This work is a fascinating read and will give the reader much food for thought on many levels. The earth has been changing for millions of years and our coast lines change at a comparatively fast page. Will we learn from our past? Will we heed the warnings we are receiving via a rising sea level and shrinking ice cap? Personally, I am quite pessimistic in this area, but you need to read this one yourself and make your own mind up.

Bottom Line: A wonderful mixture of history, science and the human condition told by a very skillful writer and story teller.

I enthusiastically recommend that you put this book at the top of your "to read" list. The time you spend reading it will be well worth it!

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 9, 2009 9:26:15 PM PDT
Pop. In the cart!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2009 9:33:26 PM PDT
Hi Gio: I can almost promise you that you will enjoy this one. This author did a bang up job. He joggled my interest in two areas here. First, even though I know a bit about the dynamics of the barrier islands, I obviously need to know more. Secondly, the slavery thing they had going in Louisiana. Due to the environment and culturally, I think it was quite a bit different than in other parts of the south. These were the same folks that were playing in the Islands and the brutality there was unbelievable. While the author did not dwell on this aspect in this work, the conditions he described there certainly encourage a further look. Thirdly, and this is an area I have long ranted over, is the fact that even though these barrier island are gone puppies, one way or the other, people continue to build on them and continue to build....can we as humans actually be that stupid?

Posted on Jun 9, 2009 9:56:25 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
most definitely into the cart!
(my wife hates you guys, there is no space in any shelf any more, she went to a second hand book sale this morning to make some new space...)
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Review Details



D. Blankenship

Location: The Ozarks

Top Reviewer Ranking: 36