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The Johnstown Flood Paperback – January 15, 1987
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The history of civil engineering may sound boring, but in David McCullough's hands it is, well, riveting. His award-winning histories of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal were preceded by this account of the disastrous dam failure that drowned Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. Written while the last survivors of the flood were still alive, McCullough's narrative weaves the stories of the town, the wealthy men who owned the dam, and the forces of nature into a seamless whole. His account is unforgettable: "The wave kept on coming straight toward him, heading for the very heart of the city. Stores, houses, trees, everything was going down in front of it, and the closer it came, the bigger it seemed to grow.... The height of the wall of water was at least thirty-six feet at the center.... The drowning and devastation of the city took just about ten minutes." A powerful, definitive book, and a tribute to the thousands who died in America's worst inland flood. --Mary Ellen Curtin
The New Yorker A first rate example of the documentary method....Mr. McCullough is a good writer and painstaking reporter and he has re-created that now almost mythic cataclysm...with the thoroughness the subject demands.
Book World McCullough has resurrected the flood for a generation that may know it in name only. He proves the subject is still fresh and spectacular.
John Leonard The New York Times We have no better social historian.
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The first thing that impressed me with this book is the research. You can tell that McCullough spared no effort in his gathering every bit of information he could get his hands on. The first hand accounts are many in the book as well as ample documentation. You hear the stories of the survivors and the rescuers. He literally puts you in the moment to the point that you can imagine what you yourself might do faced with such a situation.
The only reason I didn't give this 5 stars is the book is still McCullough's first book and while it's good he's still finding his sea legs in terms of organization and pacing of the story. In many cases in the book you have multiple stories mixed together at the same time where as today McCullough would have organized them for better pacing. Not a major thing by any means.
This disaster is where Clara C. Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was able to really show what her organization was capable of providing. So many people lost their lives and all of their possessions. The Red Cross was one of the major contributors to the relief effort. Miss Barton proved herself a strong and capable leader.