On September 8, 1900, a storm roared into Galveston, Texas that killed between 6,000 and 10,000 people.
How the magnitude of this storm could have been so tragically misread is something that is still debated among meteorologists, but Mr. Larson shows quite clearly the confluence of human error, arrogance and politics that created an environment ripe for just such a catastrophe. Competing weather bureaus, the concern about causing "undue panic" only to have the storm be less severe than predicted (observers weren't even allowed to use the word "hurricane"), among other things, all added up to the inaccurate forecast.
Along with the individual stories taken from oral histories of the survivors, which left me torn between tears and anger, I got a thorough, yet concise history of how hurricane prediction grew from mere observation of storms as they happened, to understanding of conditions that were conducive to a storm's creation.
As much as I hate to use the phrase "reads like a novel," this book truly does. It is accurate without being dry, and moving without being exploitative. It sheds much needed light on Isaac Cline and his storm, and I'm glad that Erik Larson was distracted from his original research and led down the path to Galveston.
Word of warning - some of the stories are necessarily speculative, given the amount of time that has passed, but Larson explains his reasons and the credibility of his choices in his extensive notes. Also, natives of Galveston and descendants of the survivors will likely take issue with the less than stellar portrayal of Isaac Cline. I suspect Larson's take on Cline's actions on September 8 is relatively close to the truth, but I don't think it will sit well with some.
This report prepared by Graceann Maciolek
The story of the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history -- and the people whose lives were affected by it. A fascinating read, and a fascinating glimpse in the American outlook and way of life.
This report prepared by James Keenley