Derek's Reviews > The Children's Blizzard

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
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's review
Nov 19, 2011

really liked it
Recommended for: Ryan Askey

I picked up David Laskin's The Children's Blizzard, having read Ron Hansen's "Wickedness," a nearly perfect short story that describes the events of the Blizzard of 1888. And The Children's Blizzard fulfills nearly every promise of that exceptional short story, giving an engrossing, readable account of a terrible piece of American history.

Which is another way of saying that Laskin's work here is nothing short of remarkable: it is thorough, heartbreaking, and, of course, true. The Blizzard of 1888 is fascinating but apparently little known outside of the Midwest, but certainly an event worth reminding ourselves of, no matter what part of this country we live in. Laskin manages to personalize the blizzard in a way that depicts the humanity swept up in it, but he also recognizes weather's disregard for any human concern. The stories of heroism are admirable and inspiring, but loss and death are the governing tones here.

Children died. Parents died. Teachers died. Livestock died. The rest is commentary or footnote.

Laskin weaves multiple narratives, sticking with a handful of well-researched stories of Norwegian and German immigrants, with a bit of nineteenth century politicizing thrown in for good measure (next time you complain about the Weather Channel, thank your lucky stars that the system of weather reporting is much improved nowadays). Outside of a dozen or so pages where he goes on about pressure systems and molecules and the like, there's very little scientific jargon to get in the way of an extremely well-told story--and surely those sections that struck me as laborious would delight someone with at least an elementary understanding of weather patterns, which I most assuredly lack. Laskin's focus here is admirable, as it ensures that this piece of history reads like a novel. Highly recommended.

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