Synopses & Reviews
It was April 3, 1974. Crime was soaring. Unemployment and inflation were out of control. A costly war had just come to its demoralizing end, and an unpopular President was on his way out of office. Then, over a sixteen-hour period, nature stepped forward with its own display of mayhem: an unprecendented outbreak of 148 tornadoes, covering thirteen states in the heart of the country, from Michigan to Mississippi. Hundreds of people were killed, thousands of homes demolished, and a billion dollars in losses sustained. Sixty-four of the tornadoes would be classified as severely violent; six belonged to the most rare, most deadly category: F5, or "incredible tornadoes."
Like the best nonfiction, F5 is a brilliantly crafted page-turner that reads with the immediacy of a novel, telling a harrowing story of natural disaster against the backdrop of the turbulent 1970s. Acclaimed journalist Mark Levine follows the heart-wrenching fate of a rich cast of intertwined characters ordinary Americans whose lives are transformed in a terrifying instant. A pair of teenage lovers are caught while driving on a dark country road; a Vietnam veteran is trapped at home with a newborn baby; a sheriff finds himself in the line of fire twice in rapid succession; a black preacher with a past of dire hardship struggles to protect his family.
Other figures enter the story from the broader cultural scene, including Hank Aaron, on his way to challenging baseball's home run record amid racist death threats; Patty Hearst, whose image as kidnappng victim is undergoing a radical shift; Richard Nixon and George wallace, both intent on using the storms to their political advantage; and a memorably eccentric scientist, known as Mr. Tornado, who regards the "Superoutbreak" as the apotheosis of his scholarly life. Gripping and revelatory, F5 braids the story of the shattering outbreak with images of social upheaval and individual heroism in a stunning, unforgettable read.
"On April 3, 1974, a megastorm rampaged through the central U.S., unleashing at least 148 tornados, six of which attained the rare and overpowering 'F5' category, with sustained winds of over 260 miles per hour. The storm killed hundreds and caused billions of dollars in property damage. Levine, a contributor to the New York Times, focuses on the impact in the rural county of Limestone, Ala., where dozens of tornados cut a ruinous swath across the land. A thorough journalist and accomplished stylist, Levine does an excellent job of putting us in the minds of the area natives a high school freshman, the local sheriff, a power lineman whose lives were upended, and in some cases, ended by the storm. Levine also has the descriptive prowess to bring the tornados to vivid existence on the page. However, at times the sheer number of characters and scenes makes the narrative difficult to follow. Levine is also less than successful in his attempt to link the storm to a particular zeitgeist of 1974 America; whatever happened that day, its consequences didn't expose the country in any manner similar to what Hurricane Katrina left in its wake. Still, it's hard to fault a disaster story as engaging as this. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Levine...best known as a poet...turns the laconic detail, thorough compression and rhythmic nuance of his best verse to sensational use, producing a work of reportage so artfully structured and emotionally moving that it looks pretty good next to In Cold Blood." The New York Times
"In a sweeping and thoroughly engaging narrative, Mark Levine reminds us that extreme weather has always been with us, and has always had an impact that reaches well beyond the lives it shatters directly. F5 reads like a novel, but is a masterpiece of careful reporting." Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down
"Mark Levine's F5 reads like tornado: powerful, riveting, and violently beautiful. Once the storm starts there is no chance of putting the book down. This is not just the story of explosive weather, but of one of the most explosive times in our history." Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
"Mark Levine has written a compelling meditation on those moments in which the atmosphere clothes itself in uncanny potency and visits the abodes of men." Marilynn Robinson, author of Gilead: A Novel
Acclaimed journalist Levine has crafted a page-turner that reads with the immediacy of a novel, telling a harrowing story of natural disaster against the backdrop of the turbulent 1970s.
About the Author
Mark Levine is an award-winning magazine writer who has contributed to the New Yorker, Outside, and Men's Journal among others and whose work has been included in The Best American Magazine Writing, The Best American Sports Writing, and The Best American Poetry. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine and he teaches poetry at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Author of three books of poetry, he lives in Brooklyn and Iowa.