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

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

 

 

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--and rated 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.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

James Fritz, September 15, 2014 (view all comments by James Fritz)
I've read a few of Eric Larson's books and I've liked them all. He seems to be able to open a small portal in time. I'm adding a comment, because I'd really love to win this book. :-)
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Lou Ann Homan, September 12, 2014 (view all comments by Lou Ann Homan)
I have always been a fan of Erik Larson, but somehow I missed the book Isaac's Storm. I ordered a copy of Isaac's Storm last spring from Abe books. I always love it when the post delivers a book from Abe Books; they never disappoint me. This book was so fascinating about the hurricane in Galveston at the turn of the century. I really could not put it down until finished. I have since loaned it out to several other folks. It is historical fiction and a great read. Take a chance, especially if you love Erik Larson.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375708275
Subtitle:
A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
Author:
Larson, Erik
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Location:
New York
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
History
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
United States - State & Local
Subject:
Natural Disasters
Subject:
Hurricanes
Subject:
Floods
Subject:
United States - 20th Century (1900-1945)
Subject:
Galveston
Subject:
United States - State & Local - General
Subject:
United States - State & Local - South
Subject:
Galveston (Tex.) History 20th century.
Subject:
World History-General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Series Volume:
104-887.
Publication Date:
20000731
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8.31x4.85x.69 in. .53 lbs.

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Related Subjects


Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » History and Social Science
History and Social Science » Americana » Texas
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General
History and Social Science » US History » General
History and Social Science » World History » General
Reference » Science Reference » Meterorology
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Meteorology

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375708275 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Erik Laron's accomplishment is to have made this great-storm story a very human one — thanks to his use of the large number of survivors' accounts — without ignoring the hurricane itself."
"Review" by , "Superb...Larson has made [Isaac] Cline, turn-of-the-century Galveston, and the Great Hurricane live again."
"Review" by , "There is electricity in these pages, from the crackling wit and intelligence of the prose to the thrillingly described terrors of natural mayhem and unprecedented destruction. Though brimming with the subtleties of human nature, the nuances of history, and the poetry of landscapes, Isaac's Storm still might best be described as a sheer page turner."
"Review" by , "Isaac's Storm so fully swept me away into another place, another time that I didn't want it to end. I braced myself from the monstrous winds, recoiled in shock at the sight of flailing children floating by, and shook my head at the hubris of our scientists who were so convinced that they had the weather all figured out. Erik Larson's writing is luminous, the story absolutely gripping. If there is one book to read as we enter a new millennium, it's Isaac's Storm, a tale that reminds us that there are forces at work out there well beyond our control, and maybe even well beyond our understanding."
"Review" by , "The best storm book I've read, consumed mostly in twenty-four hours; these pages filled me with dread. Days later, I am still glancing out the window nervously. A well-told story."
"Review" by , "Vividly captures the devastation."
"Review" by , "This brilliant exploration of the hurrican's deadly force...tracks the gathering storm as if it were a character....Larson has the storyteller's gift of keeping the reader spellbound."
"Review" by , "With consumate narrative skill and insight into turn-of-the-century American culture...Larson's story is about the folly of all who believe that man can master or outwit the forces of nature."
"Review" by , “A gripping account...fascinating to its core, and all the more compelling for being true.”
"Review" by , “Gripping...the Jaws of hurricane yarns.”
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