Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson. Random House (1999).
Isaac's Storm, published in 1999, is the story of the most horrible hurricane in American history. While reading, I wondered if Hurricane Katrina had outstripped the Galveston hurricane described by Larson. It did not. The Galveston hurricane claimed at least 6,000 lives and the entire town. Hurricane Katrina, however, claimed less than 2,000 lives according to most estimates. While Katrina is the most tragic natural disaster of our age, our forebears experienced even worse. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the U.S. Weather Bureau's chief observer in Galveston. Larson weaves meteorological details of the storm with the story of Isaac and other Galveston residents as well as the bureaucratic failures that left the city vulnerable. The story is touching and, at times, horrifying. Larson clearly conveys the fear residents felt during the storm and the way it changed the lives of survivors forever. I cannot imagine living through such an ordeal. This is a wonderful precursor of Larson's later work, The Devil in the White City. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed that book.