Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
My rating: 3/5 cats
erik larson is the darling of the narrative nonfiction world, and while this is the first of his books i have read, i’ve long appreciated his commitment to cover-consistency:
and then there’s this one, breaking up the visual flow:
written in 1999, this is one of his first, and i can only assume that, along with growing into a particular font-and-layout groove as his career progressed, he also grew as a writer.
‘cuz this one was kind of zzzzz.
here’s the thing – i am more or less freaked out by nature. not animals, even though i know that many animals would eat me if i indulged my impulse to hug them. but i’m totally terrified of the gods of weather. earthquakes? that is when the GROUND OPENS UP and you FALL INSIDE OF IT and then it crunches back together and you are SQUISHED. or you just fall so deep you can never get out and you starve to death* with a million broken bones. tornadoes?? those things throw TRUCKS at you, or they scoop you up and drop you into a frigging musical, which to me is way worse than having a truck thrown at me. volcanoes? that is a lake of liquid fire jizzing up out of the earth and turning you into this:
or this, if you are a dog:
not cool, volcanoes.
but so, basically i can never ever live in places where these things occur with any sort of regularity. i grew up in new england and now i live in new york, where the only extreme weather we’re likely to get (since global warming is a myth and ecology’s gonna stay consistent and predictable lalalalaaaaa), are blizzards – which i would welcome with open arms and extended mittens, and hurricanes. growing up in little rhody, we had some hurricanes, and they were no big deal, so when i moved here to new york, i kind of scoffed anytime there was a hurricane warning and people were out in panic-mode hogging all the bread and candles, especially when so many super-serious storm warnings resulted in nothing.
actual photograph of me during hurricane irene in 2011, wind whipping my tendrils:
and its aftermath:
my undramatic experience with hurricanes stripped them of fear, and while i was completely aware of how destructive they could be in certain locations, i was always very dismissive whenever the warnings came and i was like, “rain and wind – BFD!” and then sandy hit, and while i live in a borough of high elevation, and our biggest loss was this tree:
it was a BFD for a lot of new york.
but not as big of a BFD as isaac’s storm, which killed over 6,000 texans in 1900, although those numbers, like many facts about this storm, are contestable. in any event, many many dead, much destruction. and yet, as horrible as this makes me sound, the book was a little zzzz. so much of the beginning is about isaac-as-human and the shortcomings of the weather bureau at that time; all the political considerations and shortcutting and an inability to play well with others, disregarding the fact that weather systems operate on a scale lager than man-made boundaries and maybe we should communicate better with, say, cuba, instead of jealously guarding our observations or straight-up lying to cover our missteps. there was a lot of dry writing, a lot of repetition, and a lot of speculation involving what isaac was thinking & etc. the speculation is backed up by isaac’s own writing and larson did his research, as his thirty pages of annotations will attest, but i wanted more storm, less isaac. once the storm hit, all the gruesome details i’d wanted were delivered in full, and my weather-porn cravings horribly satisfied:
They drifted for hours aboard a large raft of wreckage, first traveling well out to sea, then, when the wind shifted to come from the southeast and south, back into the city. For the first time they heard cries for help, these coming from a large two-story house directly in their path. Their raft bulldozed the house into the sea. The cries stopped.
or (spoiler-tags used to hide names of deceased in what is no doubt unnecessary caution on my part):
There must have been warning. A shriek of steel, perhaps, or the pistol-crack of a beam. Some men had time to dive under the big oak bar along one wall of the room.View Spoiler »Spencer « Hide Spoiler and View Spoiler »Lord « Hide Spoilerdied instantly. Three others died with them – View Spoiler »Kellner, Dreckschmidt, and young Dailey. « Hide SpoilerFive other men were badly hurt. Ritter dispatched a waiter to find a doctor.
The waiter drowned.
basically, the book could have been one word long: hubris.
i am grateful to lena for this surprise extra book-giftie! once you get past the dry bits, it’s pretty much a gripping horrorshow, which is what i like, as it gives me reasons to continue to fear the gods of weather.
*yes, i KNOW you would die of dehydration before you would die of starvation but this is my review and logic is not a priority. i also know the human body does not contain a million bones, so there.