Michael's Reviews > Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson
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's review
Nov 01, 2009

really liked it
Read in November, 2009

If I can refer to reading about the tragic situation of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane as “enjoyable” without seeming like an A-hole then I will. Larson – later author of the excellent book about the Columbian Exposition and the lunatic hotelier a few blocks away – can certainly reconstruct a story. In this case he utilizes memoirs and other documents of a select few survivors as well as Weather Bureau archives and the history of scientific inquiry into hurricanes to recreate the days surrounding this monstrous occurrence. His attention to detail (and educated speculation) renders the experience of inhabiting Galveston at that time – the exciting milieu of a burgeoning, cosmopolitan city abruptly transformed into a horrendous, putrefactive zone of disaster – quite powerfully. Secondary, but important themes include both the Industrial Age arrogance of man’s apparent dominance over nature, and the equally arrogant disregard by the fledgling US Weather Bureau of the forecasts of the more expert Cuban meteorologists (they were seemingly “backward islanders” who resorted to “hunches” and “psychoanalytical approaches” that, nonetheless typically proved more accurate than the “scientific” data produced by our US counterparts).

My primary critique is that, by utilizing the stories of just a handful of survivors, there’s something like a sensationalist gloss added to the story. I certainly don’t wish to downplay the sheer destructive magnitude of this event and the apparent loss of 19% or so of the inhabitants, but reading the events as apparently experienced by these select few, one would assume 80% to 90% of the population must have perished. He's writing about the vantage point of someone who's a sole-survivor of eight, floating on an upturned roof, scanning their neighborhood mid-storm, no one’s around and there’s like one building left – and then it inevitably breaks into pieces! The map in the front and the brief mention of death toll by neighborhood near the conclusion (10 to 21 percent) seem to contrast wildly with the narrative. But I’m sure that’s how it happened in the most vulnerable sections of town, and a more comprehensive presentation might have dragged on. This is certainly an engaging quick read.

And, at the very least, Larson feeds my constant desire for useless randomness with the fact that, because of much controversy, Arkansas had to finally pass a bill legislating the pronunciation of “Arkansaw” around 1882. Did y’all know that?
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Kay (new)

Kay And did you know your Great great great Grandmother survived that storm? I wish we had some documents of what she went through.

Michael Had no idea. You should read this - written more like a novel as opposed to the other crap I read.

Did you know about that Arkansaw factoid?

message 3: by Kay (new)

Kay No, but I will try to remember it in case it ever comes up on Trivial Pursuit

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