Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review for You - Isaac's Storm

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson
4 stars

Isaac’s Storm is kind of like a biography wrapped up in the harrowing tale of the great hurricane of 1900 that hit the shores of Galveston, Texas. So you get a little bit of everything, great history (of Isaac Cline, other townspeople and the city itself) and thrilling minute-by-minute accounting of the storm.

Isaac Cline was the top weatherman in Texas at the time of the storm and this was back during a time when the whole of the United States didn’t really trust the Weather Bureau. It was something that was pretty new and very unreliable. Predicting the weather had just recently turned into a science and people were skeptical. And really, the U.S. Weather Bureau was in a pissing contest with the Caribbean nations when it came to predicting the weather. The U.S. wanted to be the best (surprising, right?) and anyone that got in their way was quickly pushed to the side and discredited. This even meant the Cuban weathermen that predicted hurricanes before American weathermen. What did this mean? Well it meant declaring those Cubans “alarmist” and not allowing them to send or receive cables about the weather. Was this very dangerous? You betcha. And this helped set in motion events that led the city of Galveston to be completely ill-prepared for the biggest hurricane they had ever seen.

Once the hurricane struck, almost everything was destroyed. You follow several different people’s journeys through the storm and not everyone survives. It’s unreal. Houses are ripped from the ground, corpses are floating everywhere, ships at sea are never heard of again. Isaac is helpless to do anything.

Erik Larson, author of the bestselling book The Devil in the White City, is a brilliant non-fiction writer. That’s pretty much all there is to it. This was his first book and it is really incredible. It helps that the story itself is fascinating but Larson weaves together the events almost flawlessly. He intersperses different characters stories throughout the epic adventure. Then, every once in a while, there is just a glimpse of the storm itself, barreling down the Gulf towards Galveston. Once it arrives it can be a bit like a roller coaster. You really feel like you are in the storm when you are reading these accounts of the hurricane, and the pacing is just right.

But the main character is most certainly Isaac Cline. At points you feel a bit sorry for him but most of the time…well you don’t. Or at least I didn’t. Because even though the whole time you are engrossed in this natural catastrophe, you can’t help but feel absolutely pissed off at the government and Cline himself for being so pigheaded and short sighted in the whole affair. Surely it would have been a disaster either way but if not for their bureaucratic nonsense some lives most definitely would have been saved. As it was, the Galveston hurricane, to date, is the deadliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States…of course Mr. Cline did make sure to try and cover up his tracks a bit after the fact, to make himself not look so negligent. How kind of him.

This is a definite recommended read. It’s history but it doesn’t read dry in the least. I’ve been through hurricanes before (lived in New Orleans) and even I couldn’t imagine some of the stuff described. Some of it is not for the faint at heart though (did I mention the corpses?), but Erik Larson has not let me down yet!


V. Furnas said...

I love this book. The author's narrative is extremely strong and sucks you into the situation. You almost start to look out the windows believing the clouds are rolling in.

bookspersonally said...

Thanks for a great review- sounds fascinating! Loved Devil in the White City, glad to know this is a good one too, def. want to read it!

llevinso said...

@V. Furnas, glad you enjoyed this book too. It really does suck you right in, doesn't it?

@bookspersonally, you're welcome :) Thunderstruck is on my physical shelf and now I really want to read that sometime soon, since Larson's other two books have turned out so well!

Janel said...

I have seen some news footage of this storm and it is amazing how devastating it was.

llevinso said...

I know Janel, and you're talking to someone who survived Katrina.