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Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  927 ratings  ·  123 reviews
On September 21, 1938, the fastest hurricane on record caught the Northeast by surprise and left a wake of death and destruction across seven states. Travelling at record speeds, the storm raced up the Atlantic coast, reaching New York and New England ahead of hurricane warnings and striking with such intensity that seismographs in Alaska registered the impact. Winds clock ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 14th 2008 by Little, Brown (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,629)
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Barbara
Growing up in Connecticut, I never thought about hurricane threats until August of 1976 when I was newly married and mother of an eight-month-old baby. Even though we lived 50 miles inland I remember listening to the weather report with great alarm, taping our windows and battening down the hatches, and waiting for the arrival of Hurricane Belle. She turned out to be a non-event.

Nine years later, in September of 1985, Hurricane Gloria arrived. By then we were living in a shoreline town, so we de
...more
Stephanie
I was completely impressed by this detailed and gripping story of the famous but little known about hurricane (outside of NE, that is) that hit on the eve of the Great Depression..No one saw it coming except a few because it was thought New England was too far north to get hurricanes...Images such a Jamestown school bus full of children being sweep away only to have an 11 yr old boy survivor die 7 years latter during a WW2 battle will never leave me...His little sister's dying words of "Dont get ...more
Gretchen
I had never heard of this hurricane before and, being from the Northeast, I was curious about this. Much of the book was interesting, and I did like the various stories. The organization, however, did not always seem the greatest; I wasn't always sure what the logic was, and I sometimes forgot who the people were the author was referring to because of the skipping around. There were also parts that were redundant or boring, especially in the first quarter of the book. Scotti gets into the scienc ...more
Christiane
When the hurricane swept into New England on September 21, 1938 there was no warning, no idea that the winds were anything more than a normal “noreaster” common in the fall and winter. Most people would not have known the word hurricane, or realized that powerful hurricane’s had hit the New England coast before. Massively high tides and surges of water obliterated entire beach communities, sweeping houses, cars, and inhabitants away and leaving an empty beach behind. This book was written in 200 ...more
Jan C
Jul 31, 2009 Jan C rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Disaster readers; people who live in hurricane areas
Shelves: disaster
This was great. A lot of science was thrown in here. I found out more about hurricanes than I probably ever wanted to know.

Many personal stories in here. I had previously seen a PBS documentary on the storm. And it told in detail the story of the Moores and their wild ride on the roof of their house ... after it came loose from the house. It is a terrifying story. You don't usually think of hurricanes in Rhode Island or even Long Island.

There is one horrendous story after another. My kind of bo
...more
S.
In September 1938, a hurricane began forming in the Atlantic and then suddenly accelerated up the Eastern Seaboard to hit New England. 700 people died and thousands of homes were destroyed, but today, almost nobody remembers it because WW2 intervened. Perhaps the most vivid and poignant scene are the teenage girls in bobby socks and skirts giggling as the wind takes hold of their skirts, completely unaware that the 90s teenager will be listening to Eminem and sleeping with half a dozen boys befo ...more
Bobbi
I got interested in this hurricane after finding reference to it in one of my mother's letters to her mother living in Massachusetts at the time. Luckily, the hurricane bypassed them to the west, going into Vermont and New Hampshire instead, but doing the most damage to Rhode Island. Got a little tedious at times, but it may have been the strongest hurricane to ever hit the US with winds over 200 mph. Because climatology was such a new science, it was dismissed as scientists thought it would tur ...more
Matt
The Sudden Sea is a very nice read for those who have an interest in both US history and natural disasters. This book has a nice flow building towards the hurricane and setting the stage of the times and technologies available in 1938 to track a storm of this magnitude.

This storm made Sandy look fairly tame. It is truly hard to compare the two with primitive gauges to track the severity of the 1938 storm. It is pretty unnerving how much damage Mother Nature can do to coastlines, islands, and wa
...more
B
This is a non-fiction account of the Great Hurricane of 1938, that had a direct hit on Rhode Island, but impacted the entire northeast on and after Sept 21, 1938, with little to zero warning or preparation. The devastation was total and far reaching, many died, the physical shoreline landscape was re-shaped, and many homes and shore yacht clubs etc were destroyed. The storm has been called "one of the most unusual, and from the viewpoint of the meteorologist, one of the most interesting storms i ...more
Aine
Oooh, this was "Can't-put-it-down. Kids,-just-leave-me-ALONE" book. I had heard about the hurricane of 1938 and had even seen the PBS documentary years ago (I'm going watch it again). I read A Hundred Summers recently. That book ends with the Hurricane of 1938; so my interest was piqued. This book was written before Sandy and the author's remarks about a similar storm hitting the northeast are prescient.
Deb
Along the lines of "A Perfect Storm" this well written and researched account of the 1938 unnamed hurrican that struck Long Island and New England is riveting. Photos add to the experience. The storm occurred prior to all our scientific equipment and caught many by surprise (considered to be a cat 3). Even Katherine Hepburn was not spared its wrath.
Elspeth
This is the type of non-fiction book that makes me want to read more fiction. It seemed to me it was mostly a recitation of facts, with little narrative to pull the reader in. I thought it was boring, and gave up halfway through. I have "Rising Tide" on my To Read list, and hope that will be more engrossing.
Amy
Everyone who lives within striking distance of a hurricane should read this book. I had no idea there were houses on Napatree Point! All gone in a matter of hours.....

While the problems that led to lack of warning are not likely to happen in today's world - heck, the opposite is true! In our 24 hour a day news cycle, things get blown huge - the devastation from a powerful storm is exactly likely to happen in today's world. I live about three miles from Narragansett Bay, and Im likely out of any
...more
Margo Brooks
Written before Katrina, Sandy and two powerful tsunamis devastated the world and sent powerful images of the damage the sea can wrought into every home, Sudden Sea still terrifies. The 1938 hurricane that devastated New England came up without warning. On Long Island, a family took advantage of the first sunny day in weeks to throw an end-of-season party for the children. In the middle of the picnic, the seas started to roil and by the time a dozen children were ushered into the house, the sea w ...more
Thomas Paul
In 1938, the most powerful hurricane to ever strike the Northeast of the US hit Long Island and New England. The hurricane was completely unpredicted and the death toll reflects that fact. There were 682 dead and 1,754 injured. Every state in New England other than Maine had deaths but no state suffered like Rhode Island with 433 killed. Barrier beaches on Long Island and Rhode Island were swept clean of houses with the only survivors being those who had fled at the first sign of the storm or th ...more
Kirsti
Aug 01, 2009 Kirsti rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kirsti by: Jan McGill
A really interesting and compelling book. I had no idea the hurricane of 1938 was so devastating and led to so many changes.

"Experienced from below, an extreme hurricane is an explosion of wind and water. . . . Town by town, the Northeast darkened and was silenced. The brilliant inventions of modern life were knocked out. Phones failed. Lights failed. Cars flooded. Buses and trolleys stalled. Trains derailed. Long Island could not alert Connecticut. Connecticut could not alert Rhode Island. Each
...more
Charlie Painter
I thought that overall this book was alright. It had its interesting moments, but for the most part it was kind of a boring documentary, and I wasn't too fond of that. This book mostly talks about the damage that the hurricane did on the whole east coast, but at the same time what it did was follow a few different families letting you know their experience during this time. Since I have a house right where this book is located, that is why i thought it was interesting, but otherwise it was prett ...more
SAP
What a worthwhile read!

This was a well written and engaging book about a time that many do not know about. Who thinks about the hurricane of 1938 unless you live or are from that area? Yet as one of the greatest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. people need to know and remember the time and people that once were. Worth the purchase price and educational. No profanity either, unlike other books this one is clean.
Jill Moffitt
A must read for anyone who lives on the shore. If ever there is a warning for a category 5 hurricane, head for the highest point in your town!! And wear the lightest clothes possible because water will rise from everywhere and heavy clothes will just weigh you down.

So much history of Jamestown, Narragansett, Westerly and Napatree, Rhode Island as well as Westhampton Beach, Long Island. Coincidently all places I have spent my summers!
pianogal
I liked this one. It got a little jumpy in some places, but it's pretty easy to follow if you're paying attention. I just spent the whole time I was reading shaking my head, because how do you now know that a Cat 5 is bearing down on you? I understand that the weather guys weren't on TV 24/7 screaming about how bad something will be, but where were their natural instincts? Just blows my mind...
Jerry Smith
New England doesn't come to mind very often when discussing Hurricanes, but one of the most powerful to hit the US was the 1938 Long Island Express. Conditions were perfect to deflect this Hurricane up the coast to New England where it wrought havoc on the unsuspecting states there.

The interest in this book comes largely from the historical context. Forecasting Hurricanes in 1938 was a very different deal from today, as was the preparedness for such storms - at least in this part of the world. T
...more
Amy
A gripping account of the hurricane of 1938, which swallowed up a good part of New England. The book is probably best read in one or two sittings, for the sheer number of characters. If too much time passes between readings, you could easily get lost in all the names, or forget who belongs to which specific story. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it very much.
Kimberly
This is an interesting, even fascinating, story, but the telling is too chaotic. The reader is flipped from scene to scene, city to city, state to state, family to family, back and forth, back and forth. I recognize this fits the atmosphere of the terrible storm, and must replicate how the people subjected to the hurricane felt, but as a reader I find myself sinking deeper and deeper in despair of ever grasping a plot. 3/4 of the way through the book, I finally began to recognize two or three pe ...more
Peter Roach
A well written book, with good documentation and eye witness accounts. Up to the time of reading this book, I had never heard of this storm and its impact on Rhode Island. The stunning speed of the storm hitting the inhabitants along the coast with no weather warnings was the main reason for the large loss of life.

Fantastic descriptions of what happened, and of the aftermath. The only criticism I would have would be of some of the minor technical aspects concerning hurricanes in general, this m
...more
Bob
Not that long ago, hurricanes were not tracked well. The best data came from ships at sea, and forecasters had to apply a lot of intuition in hopes of getting a reasonably accurate prediction. Most hurricanes that approached the east coast of the US behaved consistently: They sort of "bounced off" the coast area, then wandered back out to sea where they lost power from the cold water in the Atlantic.

But not the storm of 1938. It came out of the ocean like a giant steam roller and flattened every
...more
Amy
After watching an excellent documentary on the History Channel and reading the novel A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams I searched for a true account of this devastating storm. This book was awesome! The story of this hurricane was told with such suspense I couldn't read it fast enough. This storm a was truly a once in a lifetime event. When describing the waves coming in, it sounds like what you would imagine tsunami waves to be like. Mind blowing. Hurricanes have always fascinated me and I ...more
Sunny
Great topic, well researched, but I could not always follow her narrative smoothly. A shame because I used to live in a town heavily affected by this storm.
Kristen
A friend loaned this book to me and I was surprised how much I liked it. I agree with other reviewers that it skipped around a bit too much for me but overall this was a very interesting read. Some memorable accounts.
Stephen
Well written account of the hurricane that motivated modern hurricane tracking; not as dramatic as some natural disaster books but a good reference
Anne
Just finished this, really liked it. Very good non fiction about the 38 hurricane.
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