Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson

Eight stars

A great fan of all things Erik Larson, I turned to this piece, which is slightly different from many of the other books the author has published. Rather than using history to tell of a dastardly criminal, the piece is all about a coming hurricane and how one man, Isaac Cline, sought to forewarn others. As the meteorological event advanced and eventually hit land in a Texas community, the destruction in its wake was like nothing ever seen in the US to that point. Larson offers a gripping description of events, painting the scene as few authors are able, without ‘drowning’ the reader in excessive minutiae. Well worth the time invested in this piece of non-fiction.

Isaac Cline loved his job with the US Weather Bureau. Serving as the resident meteorologist in Galveston, Texas, Cline surveyed the area for anything weather related and made sure those around him knew all about it. It was 1900, meaning that both tracing and reporting on any weather-related phenomena was still quite primitive, though the reader will likely be quite amazed at what they could do at the time. Cline noticed that weather disturbances as far away as the Caribbean and Florida would have some effect in Texas, though many others dismissed his claims as coincidence.

On the morning of September 8, 1900, the day began like any other. Then, Isaac Cline began to notice some odd readings and took note of deep-sea swells in Galveston. It was only later that his predictions of weather patterns from other parts of the Northern Hemisphere began to take shape. A full-blown hurricane was on its way to Galveston and the town was neither prepared, nor could a plan to save themselves be put in place. As winds rose and water pelted the seaside community, Cline and others could only watch the destruction mount, as they waited to see the after effects.

While six thousand people died, most unaware of what was taking place, the story has an ominous and personal angle for Isaac Cline, who suffered a tragedy all his own. While he was calling for help, his pleas fell on deaf ears, as no one could fathom that Cline’s predictions were rooted in possible truth. This is the story of those mounting concerns and how this hurricane helped shape the future of the US Wether Bureau and meteorological predictions for decades to come.

As with all of his books, Erik Larson dazzles the reader with the detail infused into the narrative, as well as the ease with which the story progresses. Larson uses a handful of first-hand accounts—telegrams, letters and field reports, as well as the testimony provided by those who survived the Galveston hurricane—to sketch out the timeline of events, as well as the advancing storm in ‘real-time’. Isaac Cline’s struggle is surely real and effectively presented by Larson in his easy to digest writing style, leaving the reader to feel as though they, too, are battling the winds and gales that September day in 1900. Providing not only the facts, but a personal narrative throughout, the reader can latch only all that Larson has to offer and this becomes much more than a piece of historical non-fiction, trying to inform the reader as to the goings-on in a personable context that permits a degree of empathy. This was another great read by Erik Larson and I will certainly be back for more soon!

Kudos, Mr. Larsen, for more stellar history storytelling. You find the greatest and most obscure stories to share with your fans!