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The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

The Johnstown Flood (1968)

by David McCullough

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,428495,274 (4.06)140
  1. 10
    A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: McCullough dissected Lord's book for style and technique and was "greatly influenced by Walter Lord's example" in writing The Johnstown Flood.
  2. 00
    Julie by Catherine Marshall (dara85)
    dara85: Marshall used a lot of the details from the Johnstown Flood to create the flood in the fictional book, Julie.
  3. 00
    Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado (dara85)
  4. 00
    The Johnstown Flood by Willis Fletcher Johnson (oregonobsessionz)

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McCullough puts you right in the middle of the swirling water in his book about the collapse of the South Fork dam and the annihilation of towns down stream. Beginning with the heavy rains and ending with the dedication of a section of the cemetery three years later of the many dead this book will grip you. Fortunately many survivors were still alive when the book was written and although I didn't see any interviews with them listed in the bibliography, I am sure that must have happened. Only one question of mine remained unanswered when the book was finished: where did all the water go? We know that the debris piled up under the stone bridge but the 20 million tons of water must have continued downstream to Pittsburgh, yet no mention was made of that area flooding.
A veritable who's who of the area crashing together in that 'perfect storm' on the mountain. Excellent read. ( )
  book58lover | Jan 9, 2017 |
Here we have the first book McCullough published in 1968 & later reprinted 1987. The author demonstrates a mastery of storytelling & with vivid imagery recreates a series of decisions, missteps & human error that led to a horrifying disaster resulting in the death of hundreds of people & the incredible recovery & the generous response of people to provide necessities. Taking the numerous papers of private individuals & public records, he pieces together the threads from the time before the flood, the troubles over an earthen dam, the owners who wanted a private club, the conflicting reports by less than qualified non engineers, unusual heavy rains combined to create a perfect storm. The imagery alone of the chaos at the time of the flood is mesmerizing enough to keep the reader on the edge of one's seat. McCullough is truly a master storyteller & showed why his later writings are so good. ( )
  walterhistory | Aug 24, 2016 |
In 2016, it's unlikely that many people who are not from Johnstown, PA have actually heard about the Johnstown flood of 1889 which killed 2219 people. The South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, whose members included Andrew Carnegie and Frick were responsible for the maintenance and repair of the old dam at South Fork. Unfortunately, a non-engineer made the repairs improperly thereby setting the stage for epic disaster. For years the people were concerned about the old dam letting go and when the torrential rains of Memorial Day weekend hit, the dam finally did go, sweeping through miles of land, causing massive destruction and loss of life in it's wake. David McCullough crafts an engaging tale of the events precipitating the dam's collapse, the terror of the devastating water flooding the towns, rail cars being swept away and Johnstown being wiped out with the flood finally stopping at the Pennsylvania RR's old stone bridge. Excellent read and an interesting bit of history, now mostly forgotten. ( )
  phoenixcomet | Jul 14, 2016 |
The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating Disasters America Has Ever Known by David McCullough

302 pages


I love David McCullough. He is a great historian and his books reach to all kinds of people (not just a big history geek like myself). He has had quite a career, writing history books for nearly 50 years. Johnstown Flood is his first book, published in 1968. This fascinated me because I have read mostly his recent work so reading his start and the changes through the years interested me. And of course, as usual, McCullough did not disappoint with this book! I really enjoyed it.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by disasters (natural or otherwise), the bigger the better so this book was right up my alley. The Johnstown Flood, occurring in 1889, would be one of the United States biggest disasters in death count (It was later surpassed by fatalities in the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks) and is largely forgotten after 120 years. Regardless, it is a story that deserves to be told and who better to tell it than David McCullough. This history is well researched and well written. I enjoyed reading the personal lives of the people involved. I felt McCullough was fairly fair in his assessment of the cause (I give him credit, I doubt I could be). I think the only thing that annoyed me was the author’s occasional use of the term “something like…” such as “something like 2,000 people….” Was it something like that? Using the phrase made me feel like he had no clue so just went with “something like” a reasonable answer (I just imagine if I had written such a phrase in my 40 page senior thesis in college, my professor would have walloped me over the head). You can definitely see the growth of the authors writing through the years. Enjoyable and an overall quick read.
( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
David McCullough: America's historian, Pittsburgh son

Following the appearance of his first book, "The Johnstown Flood," in 1968, McCullough has been one of the nation's most successful historians

He has said:
"I spent a lot of rainy Saturdays at the library and museum.
I got a great education and I think a great sense of history from growing up in Pittsburgh."

It was photography that led to this, his first book.

"McCullough said he never forgot the images of the 1889 flood he came across in the Library of Congress.

"They were these marvelously clear prints taken by a Pittsburgher who somehow got to Johnstown soon after the flood,"
He said. "I couldn't get over the violence they showed."
His narrative is crisp and precise
He records the unfolding of this disaster so vividly, ......details are sometimes amazing, sometimes just frightening and violent.
He also presents the aftermath and explores local, national and international response.
His bibliography is extensive and you also find a list of victims (2209.... total number lost.

The Johnstown flood is part of the historical fabric of my life in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Highly recommended

An excellent read 5* ( )
1 vote pennsylady | Jan 31, 2016 |
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We are creatures of the moment; we live from one little space to another; and only one interest at a time fills these.
--William Dean Howells in A Hazard of New Fortunes, 1889.
For Rosalee
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Again that morning there had been a bright frost in the hollow below the dam, and the sun was not up long before storm clouds rolled in from the southeast.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671207148, Paperback)

The history of civil engineering may sound boring, but in David McCullough's hands it is, well, riveting. His award-winning histories of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal were preceded by this account of the disastrous dam failure that drowned Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. Written while the last survivors of the flood were still alive, McCullough's narrative weaves the stories of the town, the wealthy men who owned the dam, and the forces of nature into a seamless whole. His account is unforgettable: "The wave kept on coming straight toward him, heading for the very heart of the city. Stores, houses, trees, everything was going down in front of it, and the closer it came, the bigger it seemed to grow.... The height of the wall of water was at least thirty-six feet at the center.... The drowning and devastation of the city took just about ten minutes." A powerful, definitive book, and a tribute to the thousands who died in America's worst inland flood. --Mary Ellen Curtin

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:34 -0400)

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A graphic account of the collapse of a poorly constructed dam and the resulting flood which killed 2,000 people and caused a nationwide scandal.

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