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Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the…

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Erik Larson

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2,305672,754 (4.03)202
Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. This books recalls the Hurricane that wiped out Galveston Texas in 1900. I didn't know (and most people don;t) that this was the worst natural disaster in American history for loss of life: 6000 people perished. ( )
  Mr.Cartier | Apr 19, 2012 |
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I dunno. I felt like there was something missing about this book, but I can't really put my finger on what it was. ( )
  lyrrael | Oct 17, 2015 |
Let me preface by saying, if you haven't read [b:The Devil in the White City|21996|The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America|Erik Larson|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312066724s/21996.jpg|3486041], pick that one up! Having said that, this book is an exhilarating and quick read. Like in DWC, the author gets lost in the details some of the time. It helps me appreciate the sheer volume of research that goes into these kinds of books. But even the masters have difficulty sometimes taking a step back and deciding which pieces in the vast, neverending puzzle actually advance the narrative. I think natural disasters in general will always thrill because they are at once deadly and innocent. This book will appeal to nerds interested in the mechanics of cyclone formation, as well as history buffs curious about some of history's major storms and the battles they perhaps influenced or postponed, and general readers boggled by the image of a grown man leaping out of a window to use the wall of his collapsing house as a raft when the storm waters rise up above the second story of his own house. Both facts are equally compelling: that to this day, the Galveston storm of September 1900 holds the casualty record for American natural disasters, and that people lived to tell about it in detailed notes and journals. ( )
  Victor_A_Davis | Sep 18, 2015 |
Love the detail. ( )
  ibkennedy | Aug 16, 2015 |
After reading Devil in White City – and becoming disturbed that such people as the protagonist existed – I resolved to read more books by Eric Larson. I did some research and discovered he wrote Isaac’s Storm about the deadliest hurricane in history that struck Galveston in 1900. There is a particular significance to reading about hurricanes to me – I was born two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, in North Carolina, and grew up scampering across the white, hot sands and tide pools of the Carolina coast. Hurricanes were a yearly event for us, and exciting. Even when we sought shelter away from our house and there was no electricity, my parents made it seem like a fun camping trip.

And then, I moved to Houston in 1990, and then, in 2009, Hurricane Ike struck our coast. I wasn’t worried, even as I hunkered down in my third-floor apartment with the winds bowing the windowpanes. I wasn’t worried, even as the electricity flickered and then plunged everything in darkness. I wasn’t worried until two days later, when I learned of the devastation and unknown timeframe for receiving basic services again. Despite the lessons from previous hurricanes, we were all not prepared for Ike, and as the hot, humid days stretched on, I began to despair of ever watching TV, feeling the cool winds of the A/C, or talking on the phone again. 10 days ambled by before we got our electricity back, but I have still yet to recover from those dank, dark nights and hungry days.

So, reading Isaac’s Storm was good for me; it showed me that the devastation could be worse. It showed me that we were lucky to at least know the storm’s power and potential, even if we were not prepared for it. It showed me the human nuances and impacts Mother Nature wreaks on our vanity.

Isaac Cline was the foremost meteorologist for the US Weather Bureau stationed in Galveston; back in 1900, with no satellites to watch over the Earth, weathermen were akin to snake oil salesman. The people of Galveston had no need to suspect that the 1900 storm was any different than other storms—but it was. A deadly storm surge quickly overtook over half the island, burying houses, businesses, and people in a rage of frothing water. Houses were swept right off their foundations and children, separated from their mothers, screamed in horror. Larson vividly paints a picture of utter destruction and chaos; as a mother, it is particularly difficult to read about the deaths of children. However, Larson also interjects much-needed anecdotes of heroism and generosity in the time of the storm and thereafter.

Much of the blame, Larson insinuates (or rather practically outright screams), lies with the Bureau itself, locked in a political battle of the wills with Cuba. If only there wasn’t a ban on telegraphs or information from the Cuban meteorologists, he contends, then lives could have been saved, as the Cubans understood this 1900 storm was different than others. It’s an important lesson that resonates today, in this time of maybe-we-Cuba-maybe-we-don’t.

Overall, don’t miss any of Larson’s works, but in particular—don’t miss this one. ( )
  amandacb | Apr 29, 2015 |
I remember the 1961 Galveston hurricane and the reports on television news by a young Dan Rather. Isaac's Storm is about the 1900 hurricane and the early days of what is now the National Weather Service. In 1900, the weather service was trying to introduce prediction into American life. Unfortunately, the early leaders - as well as Isaac Cline - were men convinced of their absolute rightness and ability. This book is not only the story of the 1900 Galveston hurricane, but also the sad tale of what happens when men of hubris refuse to listen to others. I am thinking here of the forecasters in Cuba who understood hurricanes quite well. I don't know if it was simply racism or xenophobia, but not paying attention was fatal for Galveston. I'm not sure destruction would have been prevented, but the city could have been evacuated.

I can't say this was an enjoyable read, but it certainly was a good one. ( )
2 vote Maya47Bob46 | Mar 15, 2015 |
Riveting, powerful, and unbearably suspenseful, Isaac's Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the great uncontrollable force of nature.
Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history--and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy.
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1 vote | cm37107 | Mar 5, 2015 |
I really liked The Devil in the White City, but this one is just tooooo boring to keep going. I couldn't even get 1/3 of the way through it. It would be interesting if he could stay focused on the events in Galveston, but he's all over the place with boring bureaucratic history and stuff from hundreds of years ago. A real snooze inducer. ( )
1 vote TheJeanette | Dec 2, 2014 |
This is an excellent telling of the events that came together with the September Hurricane of 1900 to completely devastate the city of Galveston, Texas. Isaac Cline was the city's chief meteorologist, but he was guided and influenced by his superiors in much of what he saw and did. Larson does an excellent job of giving us the background of the weather service, Isaac's training and the man himself, and his family, neighbors, and friends who are affected by all that unfolds. Recommended. ( )
1 vote whymaggiemay | Jul 20, 2014 |
Fascinating account of the 1900 hurricane in Galveston TX, entwined with the background story of the local meteorologist Isaac Cline and meteorology in general at the turn of the century. ( )
1 vote tloeffler | Jul 7, 2014 |
This had a lot of fascinating things about the storm and the confidence of the time in their forecasting and ability to weather severe storms. Negatives: Some of the narrative about Isaac Cline could have been cut back and the author jumped around a bit too much when he told individual stories so when he returned to give an update on people it was hard to remember who was who. Overall, very informative and a good history of one part of the U.S. ( )
1 vote creynolds | May 21, 2014 |
In 1900, one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history leveled the city of Galveston, Texas. This story is as much about the weather as it is about the troubled beginnings of the National Weather Bureau and turn-of-the-century American culture in general. The tale is intricately woven and exquisitely detailed, blunt and unflinchingly tragic but never gratuitous. It's fascinating and maddening and hard to put down. I wish my edition had photographs in it, especially since the text makes so many references to them, but to be honest I was able to picture most of it in my mind without any trouble. This was written before Katrina; I wonder how it would have been different after, with that so fresh in the mind for comparison. Anyone with an interest in severe weather or the time period would get quite a lot out of this one. Lucky for me, I happen to have an interest in both. ( )
1 vote melydia | May 16, 2014 |
Isaac's Storm / Erik Larson
4.5 stars

September 8, 1900 in Galveston, Texas, Isaac Cline was the “weatherman”. The U.S. Weather Bureau knew a storm would hit, but no one (well, none of the Americans) had any idea how severe the hurricane would be.

The book starts with a combination of Isaac's life and some weather history mixed in. This part was a little bit slower, but once the hurricane hit, wow! The suspense was incredible! I did not want to put the book down. Like with Larsen's other books, his nonfiction reads like fiction. I think the hurricane and the aftermath are enough to raise my rating to above 4 stars, so 4-1/2 stars from me! ( )
1 vote LibraryCin | Jan 10, 2014 |
Full of weaselly words and phrases that let the author get away with making up whatever he wants to say in this alleged history. I'm not a fan of fictionalized history presented as fact. ( )
  breic3 | Nov 20, 2013 |
Larson's book The Devil in the White City was good enough to make my list of 100 Favorite Books of All Time, so I had high hopes for this book. This is of narrative nonfiction that tells the biography of meteorologist Isaac Cline and the birth of the National Weather Service. Cline was on duty in Gavelston, Texas in September 1900 when that city was hit by a hurricane leading to one of the most deadly natural disasters in American history. The life of Cline and the vivid firsthand accounts of the hurricane are fascinating, but overall I felt this book wasn't a very interesting addiction to the the popular history genre.
( )
1 vote Othemts | Nov 6, 2013 |
I read this book almost exactly one year after Hurricane Sandy, and was struck by the similarities -- not of the storms, but of our human hubris in facing them. We can look back on the technology of a century ago and discount it as primitive, and wonder why they people didn't pay more attention to the weather and leave. Bu what will our children a hundred years from now think about our dependence on what will seem to them primitive technology. It's a great way to get a sense of history. I would have like to see more personal biographical information about Isaac and his family, but I suppose that there's not really a lot available on an "average" guy, especially one who lost everything he would have been saving in his middle age. Fascinating book, quick read, and very worthwhile. ( )
1 vote TerriBooks | Oct 18, 2013 |
This is an Erik Larson book I hadn't read, so when I found it at a used book sale, I snatched it up. The Galveston hurricane of September, 1900 was devastating in its strength and the destruction and loss of life it left behind.

Larson follows Isaac Cline who was the head of the US Weather Bureau at the time of the storm. Using Cline's own telegrams, letters and reports, as well as the first person accounts of a number of the storm's survivors, Larson paints a vivid picture of both the terrifying storm and the devastation it left in its wake.

While everyone knows that weather predictions were iffy at best in 1900, what everyone doesn't know is how arrogant the US Weather Bureau was at the time and how this arrogance and hubris exacerbated the devastating effects of the storm. Lessons can be taken from this century-old event today as mankind still seems to feel that they know more than nature. ( )
  etxgardener | Oct 6, 2013 |
1900: technology was taking off. People thought they had it made and could, if not tame nature, at least know it. The U.S. national weather service was looking for good press after their skill in predicting the weather had been openly mocked. So when a storm that went through Cuba and hit Florida didn't follow its expected course, no one would believe it was the same one, and one gathering speed and force. No one expected it to hit Galveston, Texas at all, let alone with such huge storm waves. And no one called it a hurricane, as labelling it as such was the top man's privilege and as it turns out, he knew squat.

The Isaac of the story, Isaac Cline, was a top weather forecaster. His life in weather is recreated here with warmth and in specific detail. His house, his children, his daily routines, his life. The sights and smells of a town destined for greatness. Of course the town is doomed, and its demise is spelled out very clearly as it happens during the course of the storm, in particular the waves that pummel the low-lying island town. It makes for stressful, but so compelling reading. Apart from the death and destruction which I'm sure must be the drawcard for some, the value and depth of the historical information is just wonderful. And the beautiful and evocative observations peppered throughout cap it off as a very memorable read. ( )
1 vote Ireadthereforeiam | Sep 6, 2013 |
I'm no stranger to hurricanes. I'm from South Mississippi, in an area about 55 miles north of the Gulf Coast. My grandparents would tell me stories of Hurricane Camille, of how the trees would bend under the force of the winds until the tree tops would touch the ground, of how fresh water was hard to come by, and how it brought people together because of the shared experience of pure terror and mass destruction.

I experienced my own share of hurricanes (Elena, Andrew, Georges), but in 2005, I lived through Katrina, and she was a whole other kettle of fish. I could bore you to death with my experiences, but I'll only say this: there are certain noises I hear, such as the popping noise a roof makes when there's a brisk gust of wind, and it takes me back to sitting in the hallway of my grandmother's house, listening to the roar of the wind, hoping there wasn't a tornado in the horizon.

So I lived in this book for four days. Sometimes it was so upsetting because, like Katrina, the hurricane that hit Galveston could have been less devastating if a few people could have put their egos aside and thought more about the impact of the people. There was little or no preparation, and more lives could have been saved. I was so angry reading about Willis Moore and Colonel Dunwoody, and their condescension to the Cubans because they were better at weather prediction than the Americans were. There was so much ignorance and lack of responsibility on their part, and to have to read about the experiences of the survivors, and the total destruction of thousands of lives--it was just disgusting. I took it personally, and I wasn't born until 76 years after the fact.

That's why I give this book five stars. Erik Larson took me there, and I could hear the wind, and feel the houses breaking apart. I could feel the terror, because in my own small way, I felt my own terror in 2005 when the ground shook, and Katrina's aftermath, the 140 year old live oaks twisted on the ground, the snakes, and the smell of dead things in the air. So imagine Galveston's destruction, of the bodies of people and animals being carried away in the water, and the search for survivors, and the seemingly endless burying and burning of the dead.

This was a fantastic read for me, and it made me very emotional. ( )
  quillmenow | Jul 31, 2013 |
A fascinating read that tells us yet again that we don't know all about Mother Nature and to think that we can control or withstand the elements is an absurd delusion. The Weather Bureau has come a long way and we know more now than we did then, but we still at nature's mercy. An excellent description of events and human arrogance leading up to the deadliest hurricane. ( )
  melsbks | Jul 25, 2013 |
Not as compelling as I'd hoped, but still a good book for those interested in the topic. ( )
  Helcura | Jul 5, 2013 |
This story is a painstakingly-researched chronicle of the hurricane which devastated the up-and-coming glorious city Galveston, Texas, in 1900. It is presented as the story of Isaac Cline, a meteorologist who underestimates the power of one particular storm with tragic results. Beginning somewhat dryly with the history of meteorology in the United States, the narrative proceeds to tell the stories of individual families and how they are affected as the storm unexpectedly arrives at their beach and ocean waters begin to swallow their beloved city. The pace of the account then picks up momentum and it’s a race to see who will survive the momentous onslaught of wind, rain, and sea water. Although the story of Isaac Cline evokes sympathy, as an individual he does not come across as a particularly appealing person. He works more or less as an adversary to his brother Joseph, also a meteorologist, both vying for top positions. The Weather Bureau of that time also seems less then helpful. Those in charge would try to outmaneuver fellow meteorologists in order for each man to claim his own fame. As the author indicates from his story, many forces were at work to prevent the population of Galveston from knowing the true extent of the danger that was soon to engulf them. It reminds us that, at least in our own time, we are able to understand more about the forces of weather and sometimes have a better chance to avoid a tragic outcome of a hurricane. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Jun 21, 2013 |
Great book--even if it is one that I read while my own house was flooding.
A few too many characters running around so it was hard to keep track of some of the folks, but still an interesting perception of the early days of the weather service and how politics played a role in it even then. ( )
  carolvanbrocklin | Jun 10, 2013 |
Isaac Cline was a meteorologist in the fledgling National Weather Service on September 8, 1900, a day that turned on a dime and impacted over 6,000 lives in the Gulf town of Galveston, Texas. Erik Larson has written his trademark terrific narrative non-fiction account, using Cline’s own letters, telegraphs and reports, as well as the testimony of survivors of what is now known to be the greatest national disaster in American history. The most interesting part is that the hurricane that barreled down the Gulf and smashed head on into the Texas coast was never even identified as a hurricane.

I really enjoyed this account of how the National Weather Service bungled the prediction of the hurricane, bickered with the meteorologists in Cuba, whom they considered alarmists, and refused to admit their errors. The morning of the storm, Cline still wouldn’t call the gale force winds by the name hurricane. The arrogance of these scientists was incredible and the lives lost in the disaster heartbreaking but Larson was absolutely terrific in the telling of the story.

In 1891, Cline wrote a report stating that Galveston didn’t need a seawall because the chances of it being the target of a storm the magnitude of which a seawall would deem necessary just didn’t exist. It would never see a hurricane. That was just “absurd delusion.” The arrogance of the man was mind-boggling. And yet, on that September day in 1900, an immense hurricane unleashed its power on the population of this up and coming town:

”The storm’s trajectory made Galveston the victim of two storm surges, the first from the bay, and the second from the Gulf, and ensured moreover that the Gulf portion would be exceptionally severe.” (Page 198)

This is an unputdownable account of the arrogance of man’s belief in what he wants to believe and the sheer power of nature and very highly recommended. ( )
3 vote brenzi | Jun 3, 2013 |
Excellent read. Though I knew some of the 1900 hurricane, I did not know most of the story. Larson weaves an excellent tapestry of history, mankind, and nature. ( )
  lesmel | May 16, 2013 |
Since Hurricane Katrina is still so fresh in our minds as such a destructive hurricane, I was curious to find how the Galveston Hurricane compared. The title calls in the deadliest hurricane in history. In fact, it is the third deadliest, but the two more deadly hurricanes did not hit the US.

Most official reports list the deaths at 8,000. Katrina, by contrast was 1,800 more or less. The City of Galveston was literally destroyed.

The book is written in a very readable manner, looking at both the drama of the hurricane itself, but also the events leading up to it.

After reading this I can see that many people could point their fingers at the men in the weather bureau stationed in Cuba who allowed personal feelings to prevent them seeing what was happening. But, in truth, with the lack of the advance warning systems that we enjoy today perhaps little could have been done given the severity of the storm and the tremendous storm surge that followed.

The only thing that would have improved the book would have been to include some of the many photographs that the authors cites having viewed during research. ( )
  mysterymax | Sep 6, 2012 |
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