A well-written, often riveting account of Mount St. Helens before, during, and after its famed 1980 reawakening, Steve Olson's Eruption delves into the weeks of uncertainty that preceded and followed the mountain's explosion, framing the monumental event in the context of the timber industry, Pacific Northwest politics, the history of the Forest Service, and ongoing conversation efforts. In addition to chronicling the blast, avalanche, flooding, and ashfall that devastated the region and took the lives of 57 people, Eruption also considers the volcano's legacy and the scientific developments of the last 35 years.
Like all great popular science books, Eruption offers insight not only into its subject, but also a variety of ancillary ones that lend the story greater depth, color, and perspective. With an extensive bibliography, it's evident Olson did considerable research in preparation for the book. For those interested in Mount St. Helens specifically, or volcanology in general, Eruption offers a personal, political, and polyphonic account of a remarkable natural disaster that continues to shape the region decades later. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Survival narrative meets scientific, natural, and social history in the riveting story of a volcanic disaster.
For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, sightseers, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings in Mount St. Helens, part of the chain of western volcanoes fueled by the 700-mile-long Cascadia fault. Still, no one was prepared when an immense eruption took the top off of the mountain and laid waste to hundreds of square miles of verdant forests in southwestern Washington State. The eruption was one of the largest in human history, deposited ash in eleven U.S. states and five Canadian provinces, and caused more than one billion dollars in damage. It killed fifty-seven people, some as far as thirteen miles away from the volcano’s summit.
Shedding new light on the cataclysm, author Steve Olson interweaves the history and science behind this event with page-turning accounts of what happened to those who lived and those who died.
Powerful economic and historical forces influenced the fates of those around the volcano that sunny Sunday morning, including the construction of the nation’s railroads, the harvest of a continent’s vast forests, and the protection of America’s treasured public lands. The eruption of Mount St. Helens revealed how the past is constantly present in the lives of us all. At the same time, it transformed volcanic science, the study of environmental resilience, and, ultimately, our perceptions of what it will take to survive on an increasingly dangerous planet.
Rich with vivid personal stories of lumber tycoons, loggers, volcanologists, and conservationists, Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative built from the testimonies of those closest to the disaster, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.
Olson (Count Down) brings cinematic structure to descriptions of the events surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18 1980 finding in them a lesson for those tasked with mitigating the effects of future disasters. He sets the scene by presenting the history of the U.S. Forest Service and describing the growth of Weyerhaeuser a forest products company that owned much of the land around the mountain. Olson also introduces geologists and their attempts to convey the extent of the volcano’s capabilities once it began to rumble in March. A group led by the Forest Service proposed restricting areas authorized by governor Dixy Lee Ray but they left land owned by Weyerhaeuser unrestricted despite its proximity to an ominous bulge in the mountain’s side. With the danger clear to readers Olson follows the individuals who were near the mountain on the night before the eruption reconstructing the final moments of those who died and the paths that the survivors took to where they could be rescued. He concludes with descriptions of the explosion’s aftermath the establishment of the national monument and the scientific advances based on research on the eruption. Making it clear that these deaths could have been prevented by properly established restricted areas Olson takes a detailed and human centered look at a terrible disaster. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn ICM/Sagalyn. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
“Steve Olson has brought new dimensions to my experience of the mountain. [He] masterfully delineates the personal histories, cultural assumptions, values, visions, and preconceptions that were brought to bear on the mountain that day. He has the gift of clarity and an enviable ability to find and make drama, present the human narrative, and engage his readers on multiple levels.” David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars
“Olson brings cinematic structure to descriptions of the events surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens….[A] detailed and human-centered look at a terrible disaster.” Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
Steve Olson is the author of Mapping Human History (a finalist for the National Book Award) and Count Down, among other books. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
Steve Olson on PowellsBooks.Blog
Mount St. Helens belongs as much to Oregon as Washington. Relatively few people in Washington live within sight of the mountain, while hundreds of thousands of Oregonians can see its truncated peak on any clear day. When the volcano began erupting in 1980, Portland got more ashfall than most major Washington cities...