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Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,088 ratings  ·  371 reviews
For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, sightseers, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings in Mount St. Helens, part of the chain of western volcanoes fueled by the 700-mile-long Cascadia fault. Still, no one was prepared when an immense eruption took the top off of the mountain and laid waste to hundreds of square miles of verdant forests in ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 7th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jen
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
This book made me hate humanity. It's super depressing. Let me explain.

The bulk of the beginning of this book was an explanation of the logging company that owned a good percentage of the land around Mount St. Helens. We got the WHOLE history of it, including how when the Europeans came over to America, they proceeded to strip the forests of the old growth trees almost immediately. Over 2/3s of the trees that America HAD are GONE.

So that part made me sick to my stomach, because humans can't
...more
Bob
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Summary: This narrative weaves together the science, history, and economic interests surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, and its subsequent history.

I've been a sucker for a volcano story ever since a volcano was a part of the plotline in a comic strip I followed as a kid. Years later, I devoured Simon Winchester's Krakatoa. Mount St. Helens occurred in my lifetime, one more disaster at the end of Jimmy Carter's ill-fated presidency, one marked by darkened skies and spectacular
...more
Reese Copeland
Oct 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Having lived through this even in Yakima, Wa, this was a very interesting read. There is a tremendous amount of history at the beginning of the book. It can be quite tedious initially and weighty to go through. But, it helps you to develop a much better understanding of the events leading up to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Anyone who ever lived through this (I was 6 1/2 years old at the time, but remember it very well), this is a must read. But, others will enjoy it too.
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
Loved this book! I remember when the eruption happened, but this book has filled in the details and given me a bigger picture of events--how it impacted the economy, history, environment, and people of Washington. While some readers may become impatient with Olson's details of the history of the area's logging economy, the information is necessary to explain the reasons why the various people killed and injured in the eruption were there at that time, and it helps to build suspense toward the ...more
jeremy
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
a well-written, often riveting account of mount st. helens before, during, and after its famed 1980 reawakening, steve olson's eruption delves into the weeks of uncertainty that preceded and followed the mountain's explosion, framing the monumental event in the context of the timber industry, pacific northwest politics, the history of the forest service, and ongoing conservation efforts. in addition to chronicling the blast, avalanche, flooding, and ashfall that devastated the region and took ...more
Andrea
Heartwrenching. After a not so successful read-through of Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, this was definitely a change for the better. Olson puts you right into the event, alongside many who lost their lives on the fateful day of May 18th, 1980. The most devastating fact in this tragedy is of course how preventable many of these deaths could have been. The government and the local law enforcement failed their citizens in properly securing the area, educating them on the real dangers of ...more
Thom
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Author Steve Olson set out to tell the story of most of the 57 people who died as a result of the May 18th eruption, and in doing so he incorporates a lot of history. Several had a connection to logging, and Weyerhauser owned land that abutted the prohibited zones, so a history of that company starts off the book. Science, economy, and the politics of 1980 also factor into this comprehensive story.

The eruption and aftermath are clearly detailed, along with speculations of the final moments of
...more
Lauren
The author did a lot of research for this book - but that research wasn't specifically on Mount St. Helens itself.



The book spent an inordinate amount of time and ink on the Weyerhauser logging company, which has an interesting history that does intersect with the history of southwestern Washington... but that wasn't exactly the "Untold Story of Mount St. Helens" that I was expecting from the title.

Even still, there was a lot to take away... and next time I am in Washington, I want to make the
...more
Samantha
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What I think is that Steve Olson wanted to write a book about lumbering in the New World with a focus on the Weyerhaeusers, but a publisher/editor told him it would be too dull. So, he threw in a recount of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption, perhaps at the suggestion of the publisher/editor, and didn't even much try to connect his two stories. I've read too many similar books in recent years.
Lissa
I've always found Mount St. Helens more than a bit fascinating, although I've only taken the time to read a few articles and watch a few television programs about it. Overall, the gist I got was: it was a relatively unexpected eruption (as in the geologists knew SOMETHING was up with the volcano, but the eruption itself caught them off guard), the people who died because of the eruption had been warned away but either insisted upon staying or snuck past the road block (except for Dave Johnson, ...more
Laura
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, nonfiction
3.5 stars

This study of the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens is recent - it was just published in 2016. It starts out strong, developing the history of the land, logging, the railroad, forestry in the US, the Weyerhaeuser family & company, and Mt St Helens itself. As a fairly recent transplant to the area, this was all pretty new to me, & very interesting. To hear that the man who “owned” the mountain the day it erupted had been abducted as a child two blocks from where I live now was
...more
Brandon
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very thorough and scintillating historical work about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Mr. Olson does a tremendous job providing a comprehensive look at all personal and scientific angles before, during, and after the eruption occurred. I also enjoyed his brief devotion to the history of the lumber industry especially in the Pacific Northwest, and Gifford Pinchot. A really great piece of local non-fiction.
Mary E Trimble
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson, describes the events surrounding the powerful volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980 . Fifty-seven people died as the result of the eruption, either by extreme heat, by falling rocks, drowned in raging rivers, or buried in massive mud slides. Of those known dead, 27 bodies were never found. The eruption laid waste to hundreds of square miles of prime forest, and subsequent land slides and floods ...more
Nancy Regan
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Caveat viator was the philosophy of our eccentric governor, Dixy Lee Ray, in 1980, and it's one that I find hard to quarrel with. I was about 20 miles from Mt. Rainier on a May Sunday 36 years ago when a State Patrol officer pulled me over and told me that Mount St. Helens had erupted (all the ash moved east; I lived only 140 miles north of the volcano but hadn't turned on a radio or television and didn't know that the wait was over). I turned around and went home.

Steve Olson makes it plain that
...more
Emily
Jul 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2016
This is a familiar style of nonfiction book: take an event, then fan out and research all the people and prior events that surround it. The result of this procedure often feels a bit paint-by-numbers. Here, there's a gulf between stories of survival as static-electrified ash and debris rains down from the sky (exciting) and the founding in Minnesota in the 1890s of what would become an important lumber company (not exciting, even by my standards).

What I liked best about this book was its
...more
Shane Phillips
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Wished it had spent more on the people, geology and less on the logging industry. Took 2 hours of audiobook to get to good part.
Julie
Wow, what a fascinating read! Olson covers the events leading up to the eruption on May 18, 1980, as well the people who lived and died on that fateful day. The roles of the scientists, state and local government officials, the Wayerhaeuser Company and the US Forest Service in the disaster are also explored in detail (maybe a bit too much detail in the case of Weyerhaeuser).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, as well as to anyone who likes well-written
...more
James
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting. I learned a lot about logging and the history of the United States Forest Service.
Rory
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Pretty dry but well-organized. Clearly lays out how the eruption changed the region and predictive science.
Carol
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fifty-seven people were killed, along with thousands of animals. Although the eruption was predicted, no one expected the volcano’s north side to collapse and allow the initial pyroclastic flow to shoot out sideways.

Unfortunately, volcanologist David Johnston was directly in the path of the lateral blast. He was uneasy enough about his position at the Coldwater II monitoring station to send away visitors who had wanted to spend the night of May 17th on the ridge where he and his equipment were
...more
Maggie
May 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
I thought this book was very well written and riveting. I didn't expect it to be so focused on the lumber industry but it was an interesting component to the story that I hadn't really considered--and of course, living in Seattle I enjoyed the local history. The section of the book on the eruption itself was a nail-biter -- I was reading it on a plane and kept exclaiming, "oh no!" which I'm sure my seatmates loved. I liked how this book focused on the people who perished, and their personal ...more
Jaclyn Day
Apr 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This reminded me of Into Thin Air and Dead Wake: educational, exhaustive, and unforgettably unnerving. I admit I knew very little about the Mount St. Helens eruption before starting the book and was shocked by the violence and chaos of it. It feels almost like a historical footnote now—we’ve had plenty more recent natural disasters to focus on, I guess. But it’s startling to read this now: to contemplate the massive implications of a volcano erupting on the US mainland, and wonder at the science ...more
Mary
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This book is amazing. It starts a bit slow, we get the whole history of the Weyerhaeuser family & corporation, but this is important to set up why & how decisions were made before, during & after the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. The way in which the author, Steve Olson, sets up the lives and deaths of the individuals on the mountain is so poignant & respectful and yet -- more thrilling than any thriller you might read. I highly recommend this book & can't wait to check ...more
Heidi Lindsley
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
The volcano is a footnote in the book. It's actually a super long and drawn out history of the logging industry in the US.
Kathi
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I treasure a picture taken at Mount St. Helens in 1977. The beautiful, conical, snow-covered mountain is the backdrop for my three-year-old daughter during a day hike from then-Ft. Lewis, Washington. She is experimenting with grown-up binoculars. She is not, however, viewing the mountain in all its splendor; instead, she is looking down at her feet up very, very close.

Mount Rainier, not Mount St. Helens, has always been our favorite mountain. After that picture and the hikes of that day, Mt. St.
...more
Koit
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
High praise for this! Not only did Mr Olson give a thorough overview of the story of (European) human population in the Northwest, but there was a solid coverage of the geologic, economic and environmental history as well. Now, one might wonder why I am emphasising the non-geological aspects here as a volcanic eruption is primarily of course a natural disaster and associated with this discipline. I assure you, however, that I have good reason to do so!

Firstly, the primary interest to many
...more
Jennifer
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
On the day of the famous eruption, I was four years old, and we were visiting my grandparents in southeastern British Columbia for the Canadian Victoria Day long weekend. I ran into the house from playing outside saying that there was some grey snow falling from the sky. None of my family believed me until the news reported that Mount St.Helens had exploded and the ash had travelled all the way to southern British Columbia.
Fast forward to summer of 1988 and my family visited Mount St. Helens
...more
Lisa Konet
This was just a fascinating, scary, breath-taking and mesmerizing read. The book is separated into 7 main parts containing several chapters within each. A good layout for this subject.

A Brief Summary of the Parts:
Part 1 "The Land" talks about the history of the area and the logging industry. Part 2 "The Warnings" is mainly about geologists, workers in the area, other people in the government not paying attention to all the seismic activity in and the area, ultimately that an eruption could
...more
Kathy
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quotable:

As timber harvests dropped, the Weyerhaeuser Company also began to change. In the Northwest, Weyerhaeuser had always been seen as a dowdy, family-oriented company – “a school for the young and a home for the old,” in the words of one logger. It was run by men who cared about their employees, who treated them with the tough love a stern father might impose on a son. Now the company was becoming a corporation. To please Wall Street, it focused on the bottom line, not on its employees.
...more
Mitchell
I was finally taking the time to explore Mount St Helens, so it was time to read about it. This was the second book I read. So by the time I read this one, we were almost done with our trip and I knew quite a bit about what happened. But even still, this filled in the blanks and was quite readable. It is written like a straight about disaster novel, which is fair because it kind of was. Complete with backstories of the important characters, primarily the victims and the escapees and the ...more
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“Natural disasters are revelatory. The manner in which a society interprets a catastrophe and responds to the chaos exposes many of the accepted truths, prejudices, hopes, and fears of a culture. —Nicholas Shrady, The Last Day” 2 likes
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