Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Isaac's Storm

Isaac's Storm. Erik Larson. 1999. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Throughout the night of Friday, September 7, 1900, Isaac Monroe Cline found himself waking to a persistent sense of something gone wrong.

Premise/plot: Isaac's Storm is a nonfiction book about the hurricane of 1900 that devastated Galveston, Texas. It partly chronicles the life and times of Isaac Cline, the head meteorologist in Galveston, and partly chronicles the storm and its impact on the other residents of Galveston, Texas.

My thoughts: A little while ago I reviewed Al Roker's Storm of the Century. Both books are about the same subject. I am so glad I read both books because it serves as a good reminder that there is always more than one perspective.

Having just read the other book, I had plenty of details still in mind. What I didn't learn in Roker's book was the incredibly bitter falling out between Isaac Cline and Joseph Cline.

These two brothers worked side by side. Isaac was the head meteorologist in Galveston, but, Joseph was employed under him as an observer. (I believe there may have been other employees as well.) These two--as presented by Larson--appear to represent two extremes. Isaac perceived Joseph as being the chicken little, 'the sky is falling' type. His conclusions based on observations and instrument readings tended to err on the side of something bad could happen. Joseph perceived Isaac as being too cautious, too calm and relaxed. The same observations and readings often led Isaac to conclude that everything would be okay, there was no reason to worry.

Isaac, no doubt about it, seemed to live in a make-believe world where nothing truly bad could ever happen to Galveston. Galveston need a sea wall? RIDICULOUS. Hurricanes never enter the Gulf of Mexico. That was just one of his many, many reasons he gave for why Galveston was one of the safest places to live, to build, to work.

So as the storm approached and hit, Joseph and Isaac had VERY different reactions. Here is where this book differs from Roker's a bit. After the storm, Isaac and Joseph both wrote and published accounts of the storm. (By this point the two were bitterly estranged.)

There are differences between
  • what Isaac actually said and did during the storm
  • what Isaac initially said and wrote directly after the storm
  • what Isaac wrote a decade or so after the storm 
  • what Joseph wrote about the storm 
  • other people's accounts of the storm and how the brothers entered into it (if they did)
Roker's book seems to take Cline's memoirs at face value. In that account, Isaac saw the storm for what it was and reacted appropriately warning anyone and everyone he could as he raced to save as many lives as possible. But is that account true? Who was the Cline brother worried about the storm? Who wanted to warn people to evacuate? Who feared that there was no truly safe place island to wait out the storm? It may have been Joseph. And Isaac may have been the more reluctant to act and to warn.

Directly after the storm, Isaac Cline supported the weather bureau and praised his boss. He was more concerned about protecting the bureau at a vulnerable time in its history than telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Moore, his boss, sent warnings to Galveston, he said. Those messages must not have gotten through because of downed telegraph lines. But Moore knew the storm was coming and did his part to prepare the island. There's no real evidence to back up this possible flim-flam. Cline was still very much concerned about his career. He did receive a promotion after the storm. But later he was demoted and sent to one of the worst centers--regions--in the country. The one with the worst meteorologists, the worst reputation. By the time he was writing his memoirs, I believe he'd had a complete falling out with his former boss. So in his memoirs, he was the daring, rule-breaking meteorologist who saw the storm coming and acted to save lives. He claims that his warnings led to thousands leaving the island by train early in the day. (Is this true? Did the trains take that many people off the island? Was there a rush to leave while they still could? Or did Cline make this up years after the fact?) If Isaac Cline was making his best effort all that day to save lives, to cry warning to the residents, why did do many die? Did he know that it was impossible to save everyone, that there wasn't enough time and enough resources to evacuate everyone? Did he want to avoid creating a panic-driven riot? If he believed that the storm was as dangerous as he later claimed, why didn't he act to get his own family to safety? Just as he was confident that nothing bad could ever happen to Galveston, he seemed to be confident that his new house could withstand any storm no matter what. (It didn't.)

The facts of the storm are brutal; the images are haunting.

I would recommend both books. It's a complex story--perhaps one with no heroes.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge
Linked to sign up page

Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Link to sign-up page

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge
Linked To Sign Up Page

2018 Charity Challenge (Sign Up)

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge
Link to sign up page

2018 Picture Book Challenge

2018 Picture Book Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge
click image to go to sign up post

Good Rules Cheat List

Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
Contemporary (general/realistic) = new is anything published after 2007
Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
Historical fiction = new is anything published after 2007
Mysteries = new is anything published after 1988
Nonfiction = new is anything published after 2007
Christian books = new is anything published after 2000
Bibles = new is anything published after 1989

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP