John's summer reading 2013

Summer time is normally a time for lighter reading, books that finish quickly. For many people, these books are usually fiction. For me, however, I am interested in historical narratives of natural disasters. Here are the four I've read so far.

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R. A. Scotti is fast paced and well written. Scotti is a fomer journalist for the Providence Journal and is intimately familiar with the coastline and people of Rhode Island which lost the greatest number of lives. My section of southeastern Connecticut was also hit hard in 1938, and I appreciated her local perspective. Her collection of anecdotes helps us remember this event changed the lives of families and not just impersonal towns.

Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's most violent hurricane by Judith A. Howard and Prof. Ernest Zebrowski, Jr. includes some more science behind these storms. It was published soon after Katrina repeated it's path of destruction. Unlike Katrina, Camille not only devastated the Gulf Coast, but it's remnants collided with a cold front over a couple rural western Virginia counties and devastated again. What the wind and storm surge did on the coast, the couple feet of rain in one night did in the Appalachians. The effects the storm had on families, political dynasties, and federal agencies, which last till today are told with sensitivity and skill.

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History by the father and son team of William K. and Nicholas P. Klingaman remind us that it's a small world after all, and it's always been. They look at the affect of the most massive volcanic eruption in the last few centuries on Western civilization on the opposite side of the planet. Their focus is mostly on Western civilization because of their access to historical records from the United States and Western Europe.

Not 70 years later, another massive volcano blew itself up in Indonesia. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester explores this story. Winchester's style is more textbook than the other books'. In fact, the central chapter in the book, about the actual eruption, is over 100 pages long! Winchester also includes many personal anecdotes, but they are often miles and decades away from the story of Krakatoa. Unlike Scottie's driving narrative, Winchester meanders.

In fact, I've arranged these mini-reviews in order of how hard it was to put these down. Scottie is like a river rapids guide and you don't want to let go of the sides of the boat. But the story telling river calms down and gets pretty broad and dreamy with Winchester. If you put it down, there is not a story arc you'll miss around the bend.

Speaking of great rivers, I also finished Twain's Tom Sawyer. One of the things I enjoy when I read fiction from another era is the constancy of human nature with all it's foibles and merits. There is no character in Twain's world that cannot be find in real life today. It helps that Twain is such a good writer and observer of humanity.

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