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Storm Kings: America's First Tornado Chasers

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  349 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
Isaac's Storm meets The Age of Wonder in Lee Sandlin's Storm Kings, a riveting tale of the weather's most vicious monster-the super cell tornado-that recreates the origins of meteorology, and the quirky, pioneering, weather-obsessed scientists who helped change America.

While tornadoes have occasionally been spotted elsewhere, only the central plains of North America have t
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it liked it
As a child, I had three great fears. The first was the fear of losing my parents, specifically my mother. This fear is one of my earliest memories, perhaps occurring during the last stages of a separation anxiety phase.

My second great fear was fire. This started after viewing the “very special” episode of Webster called Burn-Out. You can view this episode on You Tube - – at your own peril. I just did, managing in the process to re-traumatize myself.

Mar 19, 2013 Candy rated it liked it
The title of this book is misleading. This isn't a history of tornado chasers. More like a history of how we as a nation understand tornadoes. It is still a good read. Some of the chapters get bogged down in things that have nothing to do with tornadoes but other chapters like the fire tornado in Wisconsin were riveting.
Apr 06, 2013 Todd rated it it was ok
Shelves: adventure, nature
I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did as it combines two of my life-long passions- history and weather. There are interesting bits to the book, but they are buried by great, gigantic slow swaths of the book that brought this reader's interest to a grinding halt.

I almost stopped reading about halfway through when the 19th century weather war between three early tornado researchers reached it's third or fourth decade of pamphlets, tracts and letters.

This should have been right up
Jun 09, 2014 Brandon rated it really liked it
I have been fascinated by the weather my entire life. In particular, tornadoes have captured my attention since I was 5. This was only further fueled when I experienced a tornado when I was 10. So, this book naturally had great appeal to me. I also enjoy reading about history, so a book on the history of studying tornadoes and thunderstorms was sure to be a hit -- and it was. This starts with the early interest of scientists like Ben Franklin in electricity, and moves through time to the work of ...more
Jill Crosby
Feb 10, 2014 Jill Crosby rated it it was ok
Not the best storm book I've ever read. I was expecting more of a "storm description & what it taught early meteorologists" format; instead, I got a book that really did neither. There are lengthy repetitive sections describing the "warring factions" in the schools of thought that founded the basis of modern meteorology. Much is written of public politics that guided the discourse between Espy & Renfield, Hazen & Finley---and more than I ever wanted to know about the birth of the ...more
This book is fascinating--it begins with Ben Franklin and goes on through the 1970s with the history of trying to figure out and forecast tornadoes. I LOVE storms, so this book was a lovely adventure for me. I was very surprised to learn about the decades long debate about whether tornadoes even existed, plus many, many other interesting things. There is a bit of science involved in this book, but a layperson like myself can follow along fairly easily. And the stories of tornadoes and their ...more
Feb 27, 2013 K. rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, pre-pub, wla-talk
There are some stretches of this title that seem tangential to the point of the title, and some portions are bogged down by considerable detail. It possibly could have benefited from some finer editing in these parts. But these quibbles aside, Sandlin's title covers a little known part of scientific history, has some memorable characters and, for this reader especially, highlights the sometimes chaotic methods of studying tornadoes. Entertaining and informative, along the lines of Erik Larson's ...more
May 29, 2013 Tyler rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
Really well-written and much of it was interesting, but there were some parts of the book that didn't hold my attention. Still, the book was pretty good and I would recommend it to those interested in tornadoes. The stories about the fire tornado were the most interesting to me.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 02, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: Checkered past of whirling winds
Sandlin's account truly does tell an unexpected tale about the history of tornado science in America. Starting with Ben Franklin, the only recognizable name in the history to the casual reader and one of the few who approached the topic with both an open mind and a scientific bent, the story spins downhill through bad science, lucky guesswork, bitter personal feuds, loud public pronouncements, and even worse unlucky and unfortunate guesswork.

After F
Nicole R
I am captivated by epic thunderstorms and tornados. I am horrified at the destruction they can leave in their path and my heart goes out to those who have literally had their lives upended, but at the same time I am awed at the sheer power and unpredictability of these weather phenomena. Growing up in Missouri, the threat of tornados was a part of my summer life.

When I was younger, my brother and I wanted to be a sibling storm chasing team. My mom stamped out that dream really quick. Then we saw
Bob H
Jul 06, 2016 Bob H rated it it was amazing
This is a history of the tornado as Americans perceived it, from their first confused impressions in colonial times to the years when they crossed the Appalachians into the great forests and found the "windrows," destruction zones that suggested something powerful was at work. We see Ben Franklin, then other amateur scientists of the 18th and 19th Centuries, begin to collect theories and evidence. It's all vividly-told and from some very obscure archives, so the author has done well to recover ...more
Sandlin deftly weaves together many histories: scientists and pseudo-scientists studying severe weather, the beginnings of the National Weather Bureau and other agencies like it, scientific theories of tornadoes and severe weather, and accounts of actual recorded severe weather events through history.

One thing that struck me was that so many of the men (all the well-known were men) drawn into the field of meteorology were so volatile themselves. Long-standing venomous feuds kept re-occurring dow
Leah K
Aug 31, 2013 Leah K rated it really liked it
Storm Kings: The Untold History of America’s First Tornado Chaser by Lee Sandlin

I can’t help it. I have always been fascinated with natural disasters and the history surrounding them. It sounds morbid perhaps but I always find myself pulled to the hows and the whys of it all. This book did not disappoint on feeding my curiosity on tornadoes and the history of those who have “chased” them to give us the information we know today. I thought the whole book was interesting, some more so than others.
Jan 04, 2016 Patrick rated it really liked it
It was good. The subtitle should be something like "The history of American myth and scientific opinion about tornadoes with lots of fighting about pet theories."

In the time before reliable records, photography, instant communication, etc. it took centuries for Americans to figure out what tornadoes were. They were so rare before the American Midwest was settled that there wasn't enough evidence. Then they became the subject of very heated debates. "Science" was often just the opinions of chari
Tahlia Ewing
Jun 14, 2013 Tahlia Ewing rated it liked it
Recommends it for: nature lovers, meteorologists,
I've loved tornadoes since I was a child and when I saw this book at B&N I was beyond excited. Here was a mid-western author writing about something we all grew up hearing about and drilling for. That Garrison Keillor loved his previous book (about the Mississippi River) only added to the author's credibility.

Sadly, I think my expectations might have been a little high, or else the topic is too close to my heart. I found the book interesting, but not so enthralling that I couldn't put it do
3.5 stars

This book starts back in the 17th Century with Puritan Increase Mather's record-keeping of storms. Next, it forwards to Benjamin Franklin and his studies as a “natural philosopher” and what he learned about storms and the weather. The book continues forward in time, focusing on various people who had a particular interest in studying storms and the weather, up until the storm chasers of today.

It was good, interesting. I love storms, so I have to admit that the descriptions of the vario
Oct 17, 2014 Therese rated it really liked it
Non-fiction. I read this for the non-fiction book club at my local library (March 2014). I thought this was a very cool and interesting book, where you do indeed learn about the first tornado chasers as the cover implies. There is also tons of interesting information about how we came up with weather reports and devices for observing weather patterns, how tornadoes behave, and putting an end to a lot of nonsense: like that cities do not get hit by tornadoes, that there is a certain side of the ...more
Sep 23, 2014 Zora rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, weather
Ow. Well, that hurt. After an interesting opening about the arrival of the colonists in North America and the discovery of these mysterious windstorms, with Ben Franklin and son pursing a small tornado through the woods on horseback, the rest of this history of how we came to know what tornadoes are is terribly boring. Torturous blow by blow accounts of petty arguments between natural philosophers, gossip about 20th century researchers, and an awful lot of nothing kept putting me to sleep. The ...more
Apr 13, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf
Anyone who loves weather and tornadoes will be glued to this book from the first page. Sandlin makes the early weather watchers, amateur meteorologists, pros, scientists and everyone else involved in the ongoing attempt to understand and forecast tornadoes come alive, as they feud and generally try to discredit each other. And his descriptions of some of the most destructive and harrowing tornadoes in our nation's history will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Well researched ...more
Jun 16, 2013 Chad rated it really liked it
Always been fascinated by Midwestern thunderstorms--even missed them when living in California--so I watch the Weather Channel a lot and grabbed this book off the new book shelf at the public library. It talks about the development of the understanding of tornadoes in the United States. Not surprisingly, especially for something that still has plenty of mysteries, there have been disagreements over the years over facts about twisters. This book follows the history of those disagreements, ...more
Oct 05, 2014 V rated it liked it
A history of meteorology's early lights and characters. I didn't read the back of this or anything before I started, and it does what it apparently sets out to do and does it well (covering the "first" tornado chasers), but I did feel that, considering the mystery of the book is how tornadoes work, it rushed through the contemporary history pretty cursorily. Illuminating thoroughly the answers to all the early meteorologists' questions is not one of its stated missions however, and I learned ...more
Mar 23, 2014 Doug rated it really liked it
When a severe thunderstorm warning is issued hours ahead of a storm, we take for granted just how much time and effort was spent just to get us to where we are now. There was a time when the genesis of severe weather was not understood, and there were no ways to alert the public to the danger. Sandlin does an excellent job of explaining the history of storm chasing, the motivations, and the processes - both scientific and pseudo-scientific - that our politicians and leaders used to move our ...more
Jul 15, 2013 Janet rated it liked it
This is an interesting history of the development and tracking weather, meteorology and tornadoes. While there was abundant detail of historical weather figures, more present-day information was primarily limited to the Epilogue. I thought it was strange that modern information would be in the ending portion of the book like it was. I enjoyed this read and would recommend it to those interested in whether history. There is not much scientific information but more account of individual ...more
Mary Anne
Jul 08, 2013 Mary Anne rated it liked it
This is an interesting read, given the frequency of tornadoes this year in the mid-west. Sandlin covers the interesting history of tornadoes, which until the 20th century were seen by many people as as an act of God, or a supernatural event.Even in 1900, the National Weather Service was unable to understand the factors that led to the development of devastating tornadoes. The author looks at the efforts of some obsessed, obstinate people who laid the foundation of tornado science before the ...more
Mark A Powell
Dec 23, 2013 Mark A Powell rated it liked it
Only within the last century has our understanding of tornados become able to allow forecasts and predictions of these dangerous storms. Sandlin narrates the history of those who first set out to make sense of these storms—often egregiously mistaking the nature and intensity of what tornados can do. While Sandlin’s recounting lulls in places, the overall effort remains a fascinating account of one of nature’s most destructive forces and our continuing efforts to comprehend it.
Feb 25, 2015 Storm rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Not what I was expecting but still pretty awesome.

The history at times can be somewhat disjointed, but that's mostly due to following specific people's achievements, though they may pop up later again. There's not a whole lot of science but there's lots of talk about it without being too dull and there's lots of interesting facts about how storm chasing and weather prediction as we know it today came about. Definitely worth a read if your interested in history, science and weather.
Daniel Farabaugh
May 23, 2013 Daniel Farabaugh rated it really liked it
This was a truely engaging read. The charactor's personalities come to life and the descriptions of the destruction of tornados was vivid. Sandlin keeps the narrative going throughout. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have had more of a focus on the science of tornados. He would have been better served to have focused a section that tied all of the science together rather than have it spread throughout the book.
May 27, 2014 Susan rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Sandlin follows tornadic storms or whirlwinds almost from the beginning of time, but especially from American written records. He follows self proclaimed men of science as to the nature and cause of such storms. While I found the book of interest, I did not find it very riveting. I do not think my students would stay with this book unless they are college bound in meteorology. I can see a college professor possibly making it required reading material.
Aug 12, 2013 Becky rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book on tornadoes and our efforts to understand them. Sandlin provides strong historic background, noting failures and successes in our learning curve to violent weather. The stories of tornadoes especially the first tornadoes are intriguing as are the personalities who study them. Sandlin is a terrific writer knowing when to provide the reader with exciting details along with enticing science.
Interesting book about the history of scientific study of tornadoes. The book starts with a phenomena seen by a New England farmer in the 16th Century and ends in modern times. While parts of the book are interesting, the writing wasn't enough to keep me engaged in the narrative. Still I learned to appreciate the development of science practices in understanding weather.
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