This Month I Read...
This book came recommended to me by my cousin (Thanks, Janet!), and is subtitled, "A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History".
The book tells the story of the 1900 Hurricane that ravaged the city of Galveston. This was before the Weather Service started assigning names to hurricanes, so it is only known as the "Great 1900 Hurricane" and several other monikers. To this day, it holds the record for the largest number of deaths in the USA by a storm. 6,000-12,000 people lost their lives.
What's To Like...
Larson weaves several engaging storylines together here. There is the account of the storm itself, of course. But there is also the biography of Isaac Cline, the Weather Bureau's local man in Galveston in 1900 . In addition, Larson gives the technical science involved in the making of a hurricane. Finally, there is a narrative about bureaucratic incompetence and hubris.
Isaac's Storm also offers a pleasant glimpse into life in American at the dawn of the 20th Century. Telephones? Not yet. Automobiles? Nope. Radio? Uh-uh. But you get to see the sights, and smell the smells (even if they are often horse manure) of America in 1900. Having recently had the opportunity to see some of my Grandfather's photos from as early as 1907, Larson's descriptions here were really a treat.
What's Not To Like...
There are no pictures!! Larson recounts using a magnifying glass to look at a number of photos showing the storm's aftermath. Hey, Erik! Next time, put those pics in the book! Sheesh. Even the Wikipedia article on this hurricane, which can be found here, has some photographs.
Larson paints an unflattering picture of Isaac Cline. Apparently, in Galveston today, a lot of people take exception to that.
What Have We Learned in 100 Years?
Galveston got nailed in 1900 because it had a smug feeling that it could handle anything Mother Nature threw at her (they disdained building a seawall several years earlier); because the US Weather Bureau did a crappy job of predicting the storm's path (they thought it was heading up the Atlantic coast), because the bureaucrats in the Weather Service cared more about politicking than about putting out accurate forecasts (they jealously refused to listen to the Cuban forecasters' warnings); and because Science was used for political purposes (years earlier, Cline had written that it was meteorologically impossible for an Atlantic storm to ever hit Galveston).
100+ years later, in light of Hurricane Katrina, what has changed? The levee system in New Orleans was in gross disrepair (it failed in 53 places); the Weather Service (again) predicted the storm would move up the east coast of the US; we had a stooge heading FEMA ("Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!"); and a large segment of the dittoheaded US population still cannot grasp what the warming of the oceans (and the Gulf of Mexico) is doing to the strength of hurricanes (because, golly gee, Dubnutz, that might make it sound like Al Gore knows what he's talking about!).
But I digress. I enjoyed Isaac's Storm, even though I'm not a big reader of (non-alternate) History. I liked the intermingling of the various storylines (others might not). This is recommended reading for anyone living in Texas, or indeed, anyone living in a hurricane zone. We'll give it an A-, only because this book screams to have some photographs included.