A narrative non-fiction account of the hurricane in 1900 that was one of the most destructive in American history, Isaac’s Storm is really a feat of research and documentation. It’s clear Larson did his homework. It just never really grabbed me, until it did grab me but in a very unpleasant way.
Larson painstakingly accounts the days leading up to the hurricane, mostly focusing on Isaac Cline, who headed up the Galveston, TX branch of the weather service. He explains the contemporary understanding of weather and hurricanes, and why everyone in this book (except the Cubans) was unprepared for the storm, and how that ended in basically the destruction of the entire town and the loss of an estimated 6,000 people in Galveston alone (the storm continued on into the continental US and eventually died out in the ocean after slingshotting through the midwest and making it all the way to the east coast).
The first 2/3 of the book was an unbelievable amount of historical detail, with Isaac and his brother (who also worked for the weather service) and all the townsfolk. Larson describes the town in great detail, presumably so you understand exactly what all will be destroyed. And then at the 2/3 mark the storm actually arrives and it quickly becomes apparent that a shit ton of people are about to die, many needlessly, because egos needed to be stroked, and because people were proud and ignorant, and weren’t willing to acknowledge that they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
The last part of the book was really hard to read. Larson doesn’t shy away from death scenes or descriptions of corpses, or what happens after the storm with clean-up. So for me, while I don’t regret it, it was also this unfortunate combination of sort of dull, and then horribleness to top it off.
If you are interested in weather science, and in the history of weather, this is probably a don’t miss, but it wasn’t a perfect read for me.
Read Harder Challenge 2020: Read a book about a natural disaster.