Disaster! Great Books on Natural Disasters

This post is offered in memory of all who have died in in the disasters mentioned here and who have died in Hurricane Matthew this month.

The Children’s Blizzard of 1888


Imagine sending your kids to school and never seeing them again! No one-hour delay, no “snow days” no “blizzard bags” of make-up homework, just send the kids to school and, due to snow, they never make it home. How cheery you say? This book is riveting! It’s the sort of non-fiction that novel-lovers drool over. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. Although not the same storm, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, provides a gripping, first-hand a (if slightly fictionalized) account of a family struggling with such weather in the winter of 1880-1181 in North Dakota in a dwelling similar to the school house in Laskin’s book.

The Johnstown Flood of 1889

David McCullough is a not-so-secret crush of mine! I LOVE his books!! I love his voice on many of the great documentaries of PBS’s American Experience. So, although I am still trying to get to his book on the Johnstown Flood, I can recommend it anyway. Just read it–you’ll love his writing. The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough.

Catherine Marshall is another author I greatly admire. Her books today are classified as Christian,but unlike so much of today’s Christian fiction, her books are astute and beautifully written. She creates characters for the ages, though undoubtedly her best character was her first husband, Rev. Peter Marshall. Her character Christy was made into a beloved television show.

But, she also has an unforgettable character, Julie, whose book features the Johnstown Flood. When I read this book years back I remember staying up half the night, unable to put the book down, unwilling to go to sleep. While it is fiction, it is very well researched. It provides an excellent portrait of the great flood. Julie By Catherine Marshall. [The link is to the audio download version. Sadly, it appears this book has been allowed to go out of print. There are plenty of used copies available though and it is in many, many libraries).


Galveston Hurricane, 1900


Like all of Larson’s books, this is a riveting non-fiction tale that  creates more suspense than a good thriller.This story has it all–politics, back-stabbing, cronyism, junk science, real science, colonialism,  nepotism–you name it, its in here. Oh and there’s bad weather, too. I read Five Days at Memorial about hurricane Katrina. Imagine Katrina with no Super Dome, no buses to evacuate anyone, no 24/7 t.v. coverage. But this story is also one of lessons learned. Lessons that would later help save lives. At the end I wasn’t sure who I wanted to slap and who I wanted to reward, but I was glad I’d read it. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.



The Dust Bowl


If books like this were used in high school history classes more kids might take an interest in our history. What Ken Burns is to historical documentaries, Tim Egan is to historical nonfiction. A fast-paced book so readable I found myself still awake at 2 am enjoying every word. Best of all? I wasn’t even tired the next morning. That’s the test of a great book.The dust bowl–those images we all have of the woman with her baby or the man and his sons in the wind–was a man-made eco-catastrophe. But the story is so much more. It’s the endurance, the fortitude, the perseverance of the people living in that area that make the story so haunting. Once you’ve read the book watch Ken Burns’ “Dust Bowl” documentary–both together are unbeatable. Better than any blockbuster novel and its film counterpart. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.


Hurricane Katrina


This book is being devoured by book clubs, so I knew I’d read it eventually. I was apprehensive though–a hospital in the most bungled natural disaster in American history? Wouldn’t it be the ultimate in rubber-necking to read this? No. It was the ultimate in human experience–both the good and the bad kind. I felt for most of the people in this book–most. I won’t say which ones did not earn my sympathy. But it does make all those deadly dull emergency planning meetings I’ve attended over the years seem worthwhile. And those emergency posters SHOULD be posted. Read this book and you WILL volunteer for the Red Cross and go thru their training and answer the call. Ditto FEMA classes (Did you know you can earn college credit for those?). This book is why I generally prefer non-fiction–this is REAL. It happened. These are real people. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. (This review was originally published on my old blog).


Can you suggest others for this list? Leave me a comment. Have you posted on this subject? Leave a link so others may enjoy your recommendations.

I enjoy reading your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s