Natural and Not-so-natural Disasters! True Stories of Hurricanes, Avalanches and... the Black Death

Simon Winchester

Winchester brings his storytelling abilities, as well as his understanding of geology, to the extraordinary San Francisco Earthquake, exploring not only what happened in northern California in 1906 that leveled a city symbolic of America's relentless western expansion, but what we have learned since about the geological underpinnings that caused the earthquake.

Also available on audio.

Walter Lord

"...a completely riveting account of the Titanic 's fatal collision and the behavior of the passengers and crew, both noble and ignominious. Some sacrificed their lives, while others fought like animals for their own survival. Wives beseeched husbands to join them in lifeboats; gentlemen went taut-lipped to their deaths in full evening dress; and hundreds of steerage passengers, trapped below decks, sought help in vain.

"...Walter Lord's classic minute-by-minute re-creation is as vivid now as it was upon first publication fifty years ago. From the initial distress flares to the struggles of those left adrift for hours in freezing waters, this semicentennial edition brings that moonlit night in 1912 to life for a new generation of readers."

Also available on audio, and it was transformed into a 1958 film featuring Honor Blackman and David McCallum.

Carl Safina

"The first book about the BP disaster by a world-renowned oceanographer examines the environmental and social consequences of the spill from the perspective of those directly affected by it. By telling the stories of three working families, Safina goes behind the scenes with fishermen, oystermen, and oilmen whose lives--and habitats--have been irreparably changed. But will energy and environmental policy change as well? Safina addresses these issues in a rich, deeply personal investigation of a catastrophe he has reported--and blogged on--from the beginning."

Dan Kurzman
"Just after 5 A.M. on April 18, 1906, an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale ripped through sleeping San Francisco, toppling buildings, exploding gas mains, and trapping thousands of citizens beneath tons of stone, broken wood, and twisted metal. Herds of cattle stampeded madly through the streets. The air reverberated with the panicked screams of the doomed and dying. And then came the fires: hellish, gasfueled conflagrations so hot that molten glass ran down gutters. A mother crushed the skull of her trapped son with a rock so he wouldn't burn alive. A couple defiantly went ahead with their wedding even as the flames closed in.

"Rats from boats that smuggled prostitute slaves into Chinatown began to spread bubonic plague through the city. With water mains destroyed, firemen could only stand and watch for three terrifying days as the fires consumed the remains left by the earthquake. Adding to the terror were soldiers, some drunk, who shot, bayoneted, or hanged in the street at least five hundred suspected looters and other often innocent victims. As many as ten thousand people died in the catastrophe."

Dominique Lapierre, Javier Moro

"...the unforgettable story of the tragic industrial accident in Bhopal, India, that killed nearly 30,000 people.It was December 3, 1984. In the ancient city of Bhopal, a cloud of toxic gas escaped from an American pesticide plant, killing and injuring thousands of people. When the noxious clouds cleared, the worst industrial disaster in history had taken place. Now, Dominique Lapierre brings the hundreds of characters, conflicts, and adventures together in an unforgettable tale of love, and hope. Readers will meet the poetry-loving factory worker who unleashes the apocalypse, the young Indian bride who was to be married that terrible night, and the doctors who died that night saving others."

Gina Kolata

"In 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic felled the young and healthy virtually overnight. An estimated forty million people died as the epidemic raged. Children were left orphaned and families were devastated. As many American soldiers were killed by the 1918 flu as were killed in battle during World War I. And no area of the globe was safe. Eskimos living in remote outposts in the frozen tundra were sickened and killed by the flu in such numbers that entire villages were wiped out. Scientists have recently rediscovered shards of the flu virus frozen in Alaska and preserved in scraps of tissue in a government warehouse. Gina Kolata, an acclaimed reporter for The New York Times, unravels the mystery of this lethal virus with the high drama of a great adventure story. Delving into the history of the flu and previous epidemics, detailing the science and the latest understanding of this mortal disease, Kolata addresses the prospects for a great epidemic recurring, and, most important, what can be done to prevent it."

Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Mount Everest. Five climbers died, and another was badly injured in the rogue storm that swept Everest in May of 1996. This book is available on audio and was also adapted into a movie version.

Erik Larson

"In 1900, Galveston would endure a hurricane that to this day remains the nation's deadliest natural disaster. In Galveston alone at least 6,000 people, possibly as many as 10,000, would lose their lives, a number far greater than the combined death toll of the Johnstown Flood and 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. And Isaac Cline would experience his own unbearable loss. Meticulously researched and vividly written, Isaac's Storm is based on Cline's own letters, telegrams, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the hows and whys of great storms. Ultimately, however, it is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets nature's last great uncontrollable force. As such, Isaac's Storm carries a warning for our time."

Also available on audio.

Simon Winchester

"When Krakatoa, an island volcano off the coast of Java, erupted on August 27, 1883, it spewed debris 24 miles into the air, was heard 4000 miles away, and caused barometers throughout Europe to go berserk. Tsunamis destroyed 165 villages and killed 36,417 people, but... the eruption's devastating effects were not only environmental ... but also political. Winchester notes that prior to the eruption, a Javanese Muslim priest had predicted that floods, blood-colored rain, volcanic eruptions, and death would precede the beginning of a holy war against the infidel. The resulting rash of murderous attacks by fundamentalist Muslims against European colonists living in their midst, he argues, was also a reaction to the escalating threat of Western imperialism into Muslim territory".
(From Library Journal)

Also available on audio and in a children's edition.

John M. Barry

"In 1927, the Mississippi swept across an area roughly equal in size to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined, leaving water as deep as thirty feet.... Close to a million people ... were forced out of their homes. Rising Tide is the story of this forgotten event. Rising Tide is an American epic about science, race, honor, politics, and society."

R.A. Scotti

On September 21, 1938, the fastest hurricane on record caught the Northeast by surprise and left a wake of death and destruction across seven states. Traveling at record speeds, the storm raced up the Atlantic coast, reaching New York and New England ahead of hurricane warnings and striking with such intensity that seismographs in Alaska registered the impact.

Marilyn Chase
San Francisco in 1900 was a Gold Rush boomtown settling into a gaudy middle age. . . . It had a pompous new skyline with skyscrapers nearly twenty stories tall, grand hotels, and Victorian mansions on Nob Hill. . . . The wharf bristled with masts and smokestacks from as many as a thousand sailing ships and steamers arriving each year. . . . But the harbor would not be safe for long. Across the Pacific came an unexpected import, bubonic plague. Sailing from China and Hawaii into the unbridged arms of the Golden Gate, it arrived aboard vessels bearing rich cargoes, hopeful immigrants, and infected vermin. The rats slipped out of their shadowy holds, scuttled down the rigging, and alighted on the wharf. Uphill they scurried, insinuating themselves into the heart of the city.

"The plague first sailed into San Francisco on the steamer Australia, on the day after New Year’s in 1900. Though the ship passed inspection, some of her stowaways—infected rats—escaped detection and made their way into the city’s sewer system. Two months later, the first human case of bubonic plague surfaced in Chinatown.

"Initially in charge of the government’s response was Quarantine Officer Dr. Joseph Kinyoun. An intellectually astute but autocratic scientist, Kinyoun lacked the diplomatic skill to manage the public health crisis successfully.  Show More He correctly diagnosed the plague, but because of his quarantine efforts, he was branded an alarmist and a racist, and was forced from his post. When a second epidemic erupted five years later, the more self-possessed and charming Dr. Rupert Blue was placed in command. He won the trust of San Franciscans by shifting the government’s attack on the plague from the cool remove of the laboratory onto the streets, among the people it affected. Blue preached sanitation to contain the disease, but it was only when he focused his attack on the newly discovered source of the plague, infected rats and their fleas, that he finally eradicated it—-truly one of the great, if little known, triumphs in American public health history."

David McCullough

"...a tragedy that became a national scandal. Graced by David McCullough's remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly."

Also available on audio.

Sebastian Junger

It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high--a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it "the perfect storm."  When it struck in October 1991, there was virtually no warning. "She's comin' on, boys, and she's comin' on strong", radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail off the coast of Nova Scotia, and soon afterward the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace. In a narrative taut with the fury of the elements, Sebastian Junger takes us deep into the heart of the storm, depicting with vivid detail the courage, terror, and awe that surface in such a gale. Also available on audio.

On Film:
The Andrea Gail's struggle with a ferocious Northeastern storm is brought to life in the 2000 movie adaptation of Junger's book, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane.

Howard B. Bluestein

Tornadoes are the most violent, magnificent, and utterly unpredictable storms on earth, reaching estimated wind speeds of 300 mph and leaving swaths of destruction in their wake. In Tornado Alley, Howard Bluestein draws on two decades of experience chasing and photographing tornadoes across the Plains to present a fascinating historical account of the study of tornadoes and the great thunderstorms that spawn them.