• Isaac's Storm

  • A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
  • By: Erik Larson
  • Narrated by: Richard Davidson
  • Length: 8 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (497 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

At the dawn of the 20th century, a great confidence suffused America. Isaac Cline was one of the era's new men, a scientist who believed he knew all there was to know about the motion of clouds and the behavior of storms. The idea that a hurricane could damage the city of Galveston, Texas, where he was based, was to him preposterous, "an absurd delusion." It was 1900, a year when America felt bigger and stronger than ever before. Nothing in nature could hobble the gleaming city of Galveston, then a magical place that seemed destined to become the New York of the Gulf. 

That August, a strange, prolonged heat wave gripped the nation and killed scores of people in New York and Chicago. Odd things seemed to happen everywhere: A plague of crickets engulfed Waco. The Bering Glacier began to shrink. Rain fell on Galveston with greater intensity than anyone could remember. Far away, in Africa, immense thunderstorms blossomed over the city of Dakar, and great currents of wind converged. A wave of atmospheric turbulence slipped from the coast of western Africa. Most such waves faded quickly. This one did not. 

In Cuba, America's overconfidence was made all too obvious by the Weather Bureau's obsession with controlling hurricane forecasts, even though Cuba's indigenous weathermen had pioneered hurricane science. As the bureau's forecasters assured the nation that all was calm in the Caribbean, Cuba's own weathermen fretted about ominous signs in the sky. A curious stillness gripped Antigua. Only a few unlucky sea captains discovered that the storm had achieved an intensity no man alive had ever experienced. 

In Galveston, reassured by Cline's belief that no hurricane could seriously damage the city, there was celebration. Children played in the rising water. Hundreds of people gathered at the beach to marvel at the fantastically tall waves and gorgeous pink sky, until the surf began ripping the city's beloved beachfront apart. Within the next few hours 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.

©2011 Erik Larson (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"The best storm book I've read, consumed mostly in 24 hours; these pages filled me with dread. Days later, I am still glancing out the window nervously. A well-told story." (Daniel Hays, author of My Old Man and the Sea)

"Isaac's Storm so fully swept me away into another place, another time that I didn't want it to end. I braced myself from the monstrous winds, recoiled in shock at the sight of flailing children floating by, and shook my head at the hubris of our scientists who were so convinced that they had the weather all figured out. Erik Larson's writing is luminous, the story absolutely gripping. If there is one book to read as we enter a new millennium, it's Isaac's Storm, a tale that reminds us that there are forces at work out there well beyond our control, and maybe even well beyond our understanding." (Alex Kotlowitz, author of The Other Side of the River and There Are No Children Here)

"There is electricity in these pages, from the crackling wit and intelligence of the prose to the thrillingly described terrors of natural mayhem and unprecedented destruction. Though brimming with the subtleties of human nature, the nuances of history, and the poetry of landscapes, Isaac's Storm still might best be described as a sheer page turner." (Melissa Faye Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing

What listeners say about Isaac's Storm

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Two versions on Audible

Same narrator. One is an hour shorter - this one. Am unsure what the difference is other than release date as I am certainly not listening to both to compare. As much as I dislike Audible/Amazon's practice of clawing back royalties from authors when a book is returned, I am returning this copy as I already have the other in my library.

8 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Gripping

Very well written account of an epic natural disaster. It will blow you away. You won’t want to put it down.

5 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Ego took precedent over the safety of the citizens

As we currently struggle to contain the covid-19 virus, leader's egos threaten our safety just as accurate storm forecasting was frowned upon by the leadership of those days.

4 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A devastating storm and its aftermath

This was an interesting thesis on the men that studied and attempted to predict hurricanes in the early 20th Century. The approach of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico approaching Galveston, TX was tragically mis- forecast causing devastating loss of life and property. With today's modern forecasting tech, including weather satellites the tracts of storms can be more accurately predicted the numbers of those killed has been reduced, but not eliminated.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A bit of a miss by one of my favorite authors

The subject matter of the book sounded interesting and Erik Larson can be trusted to make any historical subject interesting, but he is less successful here. It is really a tale of two halves. The first half drags and was much less interesting than the second half which is fast paced and gripping, but suffers from following the first half. In the first half you are introduced to the main players as well a history of the development of weather forecasting which I found boring, but if weather is your thing you may love it. The second half is the hurricane strike, its aftermath and its effects on al the people you meet in the first half.. Unfortunately, by this point you have forgotten who many of the players are which lessens the impact of the hurricane strike. Galveston itself is essentially a major character so that element is interesting, especially if you have been there. The story mainly stays focused on Isaac and his family and there it is at its best.

1 person found this helpful

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slow read

extremely boring. the book took several pick ups to read and considered not finishing several times. Do not recommend!

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  • 10-05-21

Great book!

My Gr. Gr. Grandmother Mary Edmonds , who ran a boarding house on 18 th and K ave. died in this storm. Two of her sons tried to save her but had to let go of her body to save herself . Fortunately, there was a small notice written in a paper that described what happened that night with my GG grandmother and the other occupants of her house. Her body was found on Sept 13th on 20 th and O 1/2 street and a neighbor said they buried her in a crossing there and would keep anyone from disturbing her body. It took nearly 20 years for me to piece together what happened to her. I’m very interested in all the books that are written about the the great Galveston storm

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A very excellent read

loved it,i was always fascinated with the Galveston Hurricane and this book really puts you in it

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating history told like a novel

There is a lot of deep research in this book, as there is in all of Larson’s works. The history of weather forecasting, a remarkable science, is covered closely, and the characters come alive. It was a great listen from start to finish, and the points of view presented made the tale multidimensional. I highly recommend it to people who enjoy historical presentations and novels of serious intent.

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A valuable insight into the 1900 storm

Larson does his excellent work of exploring a topic and putting a human face on history. In Isaac's Storm he tells the background and story of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston through the lens of a young, aspiring meteorologist assigned to the city by the National Weather Service. Larson covers the place and time through the eyes of witnesses, vividly exploring an unimaginable, almost unbelievable cyclone as it strikes a city unprepared.