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The Johnstown Flood Audio CD – Unabridged, Audiobook
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David McCullough is an acclaimed author, teacher, and noted historian. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, for his biographies Truman (RB# 97254) and John Adams (RB# 96791), McCullough pens impeccably researched documentaries that are vivid, thought-provoking, and compassionate. The Johnstown Flood examines one of the worst disasters in our nation’s history—a catastrophe and scandal that took the lives of 2,209 people in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1889.
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Alternating between views from on top of the mountain and down below in the valley, the facts flow thick as the author introduces names that are forever attached to that May afternoon. Details concerning weather conditions, social lives, economy, geography etc. are also shared in a paced voice that goes over basically every aspect and topic above and below the South Fork Dam. It may take a little more patience than some are willing to give, but please don't give up on this book because once the foundation of meticulous research is set down then this title can read at times as a riveting novel and finishes quite fascinating and thought-provoking. It certainly felt that way for this reader but I will the first to admit the leaping forward and back of time, subjects and minute facts became a little monotonous and at a few times frustrating but it was well worth slowing down and understanding all sides of arguments by the final page. I will also admit the small collection of maps and pictures placed at the end were somewhat disappointing in this book, but somehow that negative oddly appealed to my love of personal research and I found some amazing photographs and maps in my own search. On that line, it may help those interested to print out a larger period map of Pennsylvania to follow along with the vivid portions of this narrative. The reality of events and magnitude of loss will also become apparent for the reader with the closing pages that many may agree pays an appropriate somber tribute and lists the 2,209 reasons the Johnstown Flood should never be forgotten.
The Johnstown Flood is one of those true stories of history where it takes a tragedy to occur before the masses truly respect nature and mankind’s limits. In short, a man made lake is built on a highly elevated area - mainly as a recreational spot for the very rich. Down in the valley, there are several small communities, including Johnstown, that are home to a few thousand people. Everyone believes these communities are safe, of course. After all, the mammoth lake does have a man made dam that will hold together. In the 50 years or so during the lake’s existence, there are those who warn of impending doom, and that the darn thing simply isn’t strong enough, but nobody seems to want to listen.
This book is very nicely divided into sections that manage to tell a very good story about an event that happens, basically, in a matter of minutes. First, we read about the town before the tragedy, the surrounding communities, and many of the people that inhabit this quiet community. We then shift gears and read about the wealthy patrons that develop a recreational private resort - the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. A dam is constructed around the nearby Lake Conemaugh, and paradise is recreated for the privileged few.
Then one night it rains. And rains. And pours. The questionable structured dam gives way, and the communities down in the valley are flooded in a matter of minutes. The book actually does a very good job recreating this brief, yet horrific incident. You have to wonder how reliable many of the accounts are, but regardless, the author tells a good recap.
Then, for me, the best part of the book is the aftermath. Being that this is the nineteenth century, word of the disaster travels slower than what modern man is used to, but at the time, this was the tragedy of all time, and the good Samaritans come from all corners, donating money, supplies, adoption, and anything else possible. It really warms the heart to read of such philanthropy. Of course, there’s also many factions of the yellow press that arrive, and in eagerness to sell papers, there are many exaggerated, preposterous stories that circulate after the event. Much of these stories describe the incident as much worse than what actually happened (even though the tragedy was devastating in and of itself).
So a very well balanced book. Heartbreaking? Sure. As I’ve said, though, it’s a sad aspect of human nature that people don’t learn harsh lessons until after such events happen. It’s always incredibly encouraging, however, to read about people rising to the occasion and helping their fellow neighbor, and a book like this really does give one faith in humanity.