Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

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Overview

At the dawn of the twentieth century, a great confidence suffused America. Isaac Cline was one of the era's new men, a scientist who believed he knew all there was to know about the motion of clouds and the behavior of storms. The idea that a hurricane could damage the city of Galveston, Texas, where he was based, was to him preposterous, "an absurd delusion." Galveston would endure a hurricane that to this day remains the nation's deadliest natural disaster. In Galveston alone at least 6,000 people - possibly as many as 10,000 - would lose their lives, a number far greater than the combined death toll of the Johnstown Flood and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Meticulously researched and vividly written, ISAAC'S STORM is based on Cline's own letters, telegrams, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the hows and whys of great storms. It is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets nature's last uncontrollable force. As such, ISAAC'S STORM carries a warning for our time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375708275
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/2000
Edition description: First Vintage Books Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 27,230
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Erik Larson, a contributor to Time magazine, is the author of The Naked Consumer and Lethal Passage (Crown, 1994). His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper's, and other national magazines. He lives in Seattle.

Hometown:

Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

January 1, 1954

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York

Education:

B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; M.S., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1978

Read an Excerpt

TELEGRAM
Washington, D.C.
Sept. 9, 1900
To: Manager, Western Union
Houston, Texas

Do you hear anything about Galveston?
        
Willis L. Moore,
        
Chief, U.S. Weather Bureau

The Beach
September 8, 1900

Throughout the night of Friday, September 7, 1900, Isaac Monroe Cline found himself waking to a persistent sense of something gone wrong. It was the kind of feeling parents often experienced and one that no doubt had come to him when each of his three daughters was a baby. Each would cry, of course, and often for astounding lengths of time, tearing a seam not just through the Cline house but also, in that day of open windows and unlocked doors, through the dew-sequined peace of his entire neighborhood. On some nights, however, the children cried only long enough to wake him, and he would lie there heart-struck, wondering what had brought him back to the world at such an unaccustomed hour. Tonight that feeling returned.
        
Most other nights, Isaac slept soundly. He was a creature of the last turning of the centuries when sleep seemed to come more easily. Things were clear to him. He was loyal, a believer in dignity, honor, and effort. He taught Sunday school. He paid cash, a fact noted in a directory published by the Giles Mercantile Agency and meant to be held in strictest confidence. The small red book fit into a vest pocket and listed nearly all Galveston's established citizens--its police officers, bankers, waiters, clerics, tobacconists, undertakers, tycoons, and shipping agents--andrated them for credit-worthiness, basing this appraisal on secret reports filed anonymously by friends and enemies. An asterisk beside a name meant trouble, "Inquire at Office," and marred the fiscal reputations of such people as Joe Amando, tamale vendor; Noah Allen, attorney; Ida Cherry, widow; and August Rollfing, housepainter. Isaac Cline got the highest rating, a "B," for "Pays Well, Worthy of Credit." In November of 1893, two years after Isaac arrived in Galveston to open the Texas Section of the new U.S. Weather Bureau, a government inspector wrote: "I suppose there is not a man in the Service on Station Duty who does more real work than he. . . . He takes a remarkable degree of interest in his work, and has a great pride in making his station one of the best and most important in the country, as it is now."
        
Upon first meeting Isaac, men found him to be modest and self-effacing, but those who came to know him well saw a hardness and confidence that verged on conceit. A New Orleans photographer captured this aspect in a photograph that is so good, with so much attention to the geometries of composition and light, it could be a portrait in oil. The background is black; Isaac's suit is black. His shirt is the color of bleached bone. He has a mustache and goatee and wears a straw hat, not the rigid cake-plate variety, but one with a sweeping scimitar brim that imparts to him the look of a French painter or riverboat gambler. A darkness suffuses the photograph. The brim shadows the top of his face. His eyes gleam from the darkness. Most striking is the careful positioning of his hands. His right rests in his lap, gripping what could be a pair of gloves. His left is positioned in midair so that the diamond on his pinkie sparks with the intensity of a star.
        
There is a secret embedded in this photograph. For now, however, suffice it to say the portrait suggests vanity, that Isaac was aware of himself and how he moved through the day, and saw himself as something bigger than a mere recorder of rainfall and temperature. He was a scientist, not some farmer who gauged the weather by aches in a rheumatoid knee. Isaac personally had encountered and explained some of the strangest atmospheric phenomena a weatherman could ever hope to experience, but also had read the works of the most celebrated meteorologists and physical geographers of the nineteenth century, men like Henry Piddington, Matthew Fontaine Maury, William Redfield, and James Espy, and he had followed their celebrated hunt for the Law of Storms. He believed deeply that he understood it all.
        
He lived in a big time, astride the changing centuries. The frontier was still a living, vivid thing, with Buffalo Bill Cody touring his Wild West Show to sellout crowds around the globe, Bat Masterson a sportswriter in New Jersey, and Frank James opening the family ranch for tours at fifty cents a head. But a new America was emerging, one with big and global aspirations. Teddy Roosevelt, flanked by his Rough Riders, campaigned for the vice presidency. U.S. warships steamed to quell the Boxers. There was fabulous talk of a great American-built canal that would link the Atlantic to the Pacific, a task at which Vicomte de Lesseps and the French had so catastrophically failed. The nation in 1900 was swollen with pride and technological confidence. It was a time, wrote Sen. Chauncey Depew, one of the most prominent politicians of the age, when the average American felt "four-hundred-percent bigger" than the year before.
        
There was talk even of controlling the weather--of subduing hail with cannon blasts and igniting forest fires to bring rain.
        
In this new age, nature itself seemed no great obstacle.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Isaac's Storm 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 149 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love to read history books, however some can be hard to get into. This is not the case with this book! I read it in less than a week. It was very well written and gave a gripping account of a horrible storm. It really makes you realize how lucky we are today to have advance hurricane warnings!
Faysie-May More than 1 year ago
This was very well written with a great deal of historical research presented in a very readable, non-dry narrative. The book chronicles events leading up to and including accounts of the hurricane of 1900 that wiped out Galveston. It is seen in large part via the chief meteorologist there at the time. This is not the usual type of book I would read. I expected to be bored by the meteorology information, and though there was some in the first of the book I didn't find enthralling, it was worth reading to understand the whole picture. Once the actual hurricane accounts started, I couldn't put the book down! The 1900 hurricane in Galveston was a tragedy that could have been mitigated greatly in terms of massive loss of lives had only the warning signs been investigated. There was arrogance on the part of the main meteorologist in Galveston, and in addition there were also in-house political issues among U.S. weather service leaders and personnel that stifled communication or collaboration. The accounts of the survivors who lived through the hurricane are horrifying but riveting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't help but read this once I saw it. My wifes grandfather survived the storm as in infant. He was was born in August of 1900 and the storm came the next month. His mother told him their two story home floated down the street with them in it. My mother in law gave me a pendulum clock that I am looking at. She said it floated in Angelo's restaurant. I can still see water stains on its face as I write this. I don't think I understood what people in my family knew about this event until I read Isaac's Storm. I go to Galveston and wonder why some many homes are being built on the beach.Don't they know what happened? It will happen sadly again. I survived Carla in the center of the storm in 1961 in Port Lavaca. I know what can happen. After Galveston and after New Orleans you would think others would know. They don't. Darrell Cameron Houston Resident
Guest More than 1 year ago
Isaac's Storm was a great book. It takes place in Galveston, TX on September 8th and 9th, 1900. There was a hurricane offcoast and Washington DC told Isaac Cline that it was no threat, it was great weather, so he believed them. But he saw the ocean get worse and worried. When he figured out that this was a bad hurricane, it was too late for many people. The city was destroyed and about 6000 people were dead, including his wife and kid. Issac carried it on his shoulders that it was his fault, that he was careless once, and a horrible hurricane hit. This book's message is that man's faliure to predict when, where, and how a storm will hit can lead to a horrible ending. Isaac's Storm has 6 chapters, each one leading up to the storm. Each one, telling a little bit more about this misunderstanding, and Isaac's training. This book is perfect for teenagers and up. It is a great weather adventure story. I love this book, I think that it has a great balance between the actual storm and it's effects on so many people and the people that try to prevent storms like the category 5 hurricane that hit Galveston.
RaiderRealm More than 1 year ago
I had always heard of this terrible hurricane and I wanted to read about the actual event. I did not expect this book to be so captivating and entertaining. The impending doom is an underlying current throughout the book. The author inserts many personal perspectives including the weather forecaster's family along with many other Galveston residents. The reader gets a visual and factual perspective of life at the turn of the century and the crude tools used to predict the weather. This lack of technology and lack of communication led to the deaths of over 10,000. I recommend this book without any hesitation. The research is well done, the vision of life in 1900 and the unspeakable power of God's power is wonderfully presented by Mr. Larson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could hardly stop reading this book. It was touching and horrifying at the same time as Mr. Larson told the story of the deadly Galveston Hurricane. He is very good at telling a story from brief documented facts. I've enjoyed all of his books and would recommend any of them. I learn so much history while enjoying a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Since I live in Galveston and having  been here thru Ike, I found this book very vivid, emotional excellent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compelling and full of period details
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish that the street maps were full size. Their miniscule size in the e-book version made them useless. It would have been helpful to have a readable map to reference since so much of the story referred to specific street locations. I felt frustrated that the actual Galviston storm narrative doesn't really begin until you've read about a third of the way through. I didn't mind the technical weather related information....but the extensive background info of characters that had no major role in the story was tiresome. The actual storm experiences (once they finally started) told from different points of view and vantage points was riviting and put a face on this terrible tragedy. After reading this book I will never again hear about a hurricane's aftermath in the news without feeling empathy for the souls effected. Finally, I would love to have seen some before and after photos of the city included in the book. A good read.
Granx6 More than 1 year ago
I actually heard this in the audio version and had to have the book for myself! I was hooked from the beginning, anyone interested in history, this is a MUST READ! Granx6
fish2006 More than 1 year ago
This is story of a tragic event in American history. The book brought history to life and keeps you in engaged to the very end. This book made me appreciate weather stations even more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I grew up in Houston - only 50 miles from Galveston - I was well aware of the Great Storm of 1900 and how it forever changed a once magnificent city. But to learn how little meteorologists knew and how few tools they had to predict hurricanes was astounding. And equally amazing was Larson's descriptions of how individuals and families dealt with Nature's fury as the storm approached. He made the story personal as he detailed their struggles, even giving their names and their histories. And those names and facts largely were the results of researching actual Galveston newspaper reports from 1900. He brought those people to life, even if only to die. A very moving account.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like historical novels you will like this one. I learned about a storm never heard of before, a very destructive one. I enjoy Erick Larson's books as he is a gifted writer and researcher.
book58lover on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book I have recommended to friends, particularly following the huricanes in the Gulf region during the past few years. It is remarkable that our reporting system began in such difficulty and could not be overcome to save the citizens of Galveston.
JohnMunsch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An account of the 1900 hurricane that hit the city of Galveston.
ACQwoods on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Following the trail of the Johnstown Flood, the next book on my list was Isaac's Storm. Again, it is nonfiction but Larson tells the story so well that it flows like a novel. His descriptions of the storm are absolutely poetic...my favorite is "he heard the susurrus of curtains luffed by the breeze." The storm is actually a character in the story. Not to worry for those rational minded readers; the book is packed with facts and data. I was struck by the parallel of the attitudes of Americans in this time to those of the British who built the Titanic (I highly recommend Walter Lord's A Night to Remember if you're interested in learning more about that). Isaac's Storm is an insightful look not only at one of the worst natural disasters in American history, but at the people and attitudes that shaped the time.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Themes: hubris, disaster, hurricanes, weather, racism, sibling feudI have to start by thanking LT bcquinnsmom for this awesome read. I gave it 4.5 stars. I would give it 5 if it included maps and pictures, but otherwise, it was amazing, powerful stuff. It built rather like a storm itself - just a few hints that something wasn't right, growing slowly, and then a torrent of truly grim accounts of the horrors people faced in this awful storm. It tells the story of the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas. Modern accounts estimate 10,000 dead, including the other towns affected by the storm, but there's no way to really know how many lives were lost. If you enjoy reading disaster accounts, or studying weather, or Texas history, this makes great reading. Reminded me that this is one disaster I was happy to leave behind when I moved to Utah.
zenhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
painstakingly researched, this is the remarkable story of a huge killer hurricane that caught the island of galveston by surprise in 1900. the loss of life, and near total destruction of the island were shocking at the time, and, even in light of events like hurricane katrina, remain shocking today. watching the evening news these days, it is amazing how far weather forecasting has come in 100 years, surprising how misunderstood it was back then, and how it was held in such suspicion. much of the book covers the political intrigue and behind-the-scenes back-stabbing that surrounded the establishment of the national weather forecasting system. i didn't think it was particularly well written - i would not recommend this book for it's prose alone, but the story is gripping and certainly well assembled and detailed.
Ladydncing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great Book, yet terrifying on one of U.S. deadliest hurricane of the U.S.! Galvaston, Texas in September of 1900! The book was well researched and documented by Larson. Ditto, wished it had some pictures!
teeth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very vivd description of the hurricane in Galveston in the 1900. it was alittle too technical for me but erik larson does paint a very vivid description of historical events.
mjgrogan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I can refer to reading about the tragic situation of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane as ¿enjoyable¿ without seeming like an A-hole then I will. Larson ¿ later author of the excellent book about the Columbian Exposition and the lunatic hotelier a few blocks away ¿ can certainly reconstruct a story. In this case he utilizes memoirs and other documents of a select few survivors as well as Weather Bureau archives and the history of scientific inquiry into hurricanes to recreate the days surrounding this monstrous occurrence. His attention to detail (and educated speculation) renders the experience of inhabiting Galveston at that time ¿ the exciting milieu of a burgeoning, cosmopolitan city abruptly transformed into a horrendous, putrefactive zone of disaster ¿ quite powerfully. Secondary, but important themes include both the Industrial Age arrogance of man¿s apparent dominance over nature, and the equally arrogant disregard by the fledgling US Weather Bureau of the forecasts of the more expert Cuban meteorologists (they were seemingly ¿backward islanders¿ who resorted to ¿hunches¿ and ¿psychoanalytical approaches¿ that, nonetheless typically proved more accurate than the ¿scientific¿ data produced by our US counterparts).My primary critique is that, by utilizing the stories of just a handful of survivors, there¿s something like a sensationalist gloss added to the story. I certainly don¿t wish to downplay the sheer destructive magnitude of this event and the apparent loss of 19% or so of the inhabitants, but reading the events as apparently experienced by these select few, one would assume 80% to 90% of the population must have perished. He's writing about the vantage point of someone who's a sole-survivor of eight, floating on an upturned roof, scanning their neighborhood mid-storm, no one¿s around and there¿s like one building left ¿ and then it inevitably breaks into pieces! The map in the front and the brief mention of death toll by neighborhood near the conclusion (10 to 21 percent) seem to contrast wildly with the narrative. But I¿m sure that¿s how it happened in the most vulnerable sections of town, and a more comprehensive presentation might have dragged on. This is certainly an engaging quick read.And, at the very least, Larson feeds my constant desire for useless randomness with the fact that, because of much controversy, Arkansas had to finally pass a bill legislating the pronunciation of ¿Arkansaw¿ around 1882. Did y¿all know that?
iammbb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engrossing.Another of those books that I picked up to read for a few minutes before falling asleep, only to put it down much later, having finished it.Isaac Cline was one of the early forecasters with the US government as it was attempting to establish its weather service. To someone accustomed to all the bells and whistles available to weather forecasters today, it was quite eye opening to read about the science of meteorology in its infancy. It was commonly held that attempting to predict the weather was folly.Larson ably brings together the myriad factors which combined to allow the hurricane of 1900 to blindside Galveston. He discusses how the US government's contempt for and racism towards the Cubans, who had vastly greater experience with hurricanes, set the stage for the misjudgments regarding the path of the hurricane or even whether or not the hurricane was a hurricane.By plumbing the perspectives and experiences of sea captains in the hurricane's path, Larson adds a layer of appreciation for the extent to which the storm was unforeseen. Larson also weaves in the personal story of Isaac and his brother, Joseph, whose relationship was yet another casualty of the storm.Well-researched, the book also stands as a treatise on the phenomenon of hurricanes.
MerryMary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting and really well done. A comprehensive history of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 - a deadly storm of record-breaking proportions. The story of the storm is seen through the lens of the meteorologist Isaac Cline and the consequences of his actions, mistakes, and conclusions. The author's research has been exhaustive and meticulously noted from mostly primary sources. i was especially impressed with his digging in the records of the National Weather Bureau. Many of these delicate documents had not seen the light of day for 100 years. The bureaucratic detail gives another dimension to the heart-breakingly human story. Dropped one star for no photos. (I just like photos in nonfiction.) Recommended.
tdfangirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a creative retelling of the events leading up to the Galvestion hurricane of 1900 based on extensive research and personal accounts. I was raised in Texas and grew up going to Galveston nearly every summer during my childhood, but despite my many visits, I'd never really heard much about the Great Hurricane. This book was fascinating, terrifying, and very well-written. The descriptions of Cline's life are based partly on Cline's own biography, but much of the day-to-day writings are fictionalized. The fiction is seamlessly blended with information on hurricanes, the history of hurricane forecasting, and accounts of hurricanes past.
iubookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isaac's Storm, published in 1999, is the story of the most horrible hurricane in American history. While reading, I wondered if Hurricane Katrina had outstripped the Galveston hurricane described by Larson. It did not. The Galveston hurricane claimed at least 6,000 lives and the entire town. Hurricane Katrina, however, claimed less than 2,000 lives according to most estimates. While Katrina is the most tragic natural disaster of our age, our forebears experienced even worse. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the U.S. Weather Bureau's chief observer in Galveston. Larson weaves meteorological details of the storm with the story of Isaac and other Galveston residents as well as the bureaucratic failures that left the city vulnerable. The story is touching and, at times, horrifying. Larson clearly conveys the fear residents felt during the storm and the way it changed the lives of survivors forever. I cannot imagine living through such an ordeal. This is a wonderful precursor of Larson's later work, The Devil in the White City. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed that book.