Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

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Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson, Isaac Monroe Cline

From the bestselling author of The Devil in the White City, here is the true story of the deadliest hurricane in history.

National Bestseller

September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history--and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy.

Using Cline's own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson builds a chronicle of one man's heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. Riveting, powerful, and unbearably suspenseful, Isaac's Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the great uncontrollable force of nature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375708275
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/2000
Edition description: First Vintage Books Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 22,749
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

ERIK LARSON is the author of four national bestsellers: In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm, which have collectively sold more than 5.5 million copies. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and other publications and his books have been published in fourteen countries.


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

January 1, 1954

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York


B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; M.S., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1978

Read an Excerpt

Washington, D.C.
Sept. 9, 1900
To: Manager, Western Union
Houston, Texas

Do you hear anything about Galveston?
Willis L. Moore,
Chief, U.S. Weather Bureau

The Beach
September 8, 1900

Throughout the night of Friday, September 7, 1900, Isaac Monroe Cline found himself waking to a persistent sense of something gone wrong. It was the kind of feeling parents often experienced and one that no doubt had come to him when each of his three daughters was a baby. Each would cry, of course, and often for astounding lengths of time, tearing a seam not just through the Cline house but also, in that day of open windows and unlocked doors, through the dew-sequined peace of his entire neighborhood. On some nights, however, the children cried only long enough to wake him, and he would lie there heart-struck, wondering what had brought him back to the world at such an unaccustomed hour. Tonight that feeling returned.
Most other nights, Isaac slept soundly. He was a creature of the last turning of the centuries when sleep seemed to come more easily. Things were clear to him. He was loyal, a believer in dignity, honor, and effort. He taught Sunday school. He paid cash, a fact noted in a directory published by the Giles Mercantile Agency and meant to be held in strictest confidence. The small red book fit into a vest pocket and listed nearly all Galveston's established citizens--its police officers, bankers, waiters, clerics, tobacconists, undertakers, tycoons, and shipping agents--and rated them for credit-worthiness, basing this appraisal on secret reports filed anonymously by friends and enemies. An asterisk beside a name meant trouble, "Inquire at Office," and marred the fiscal reputations of such people as Joe Amando, tamale vendor; Noah Allen, attorney; Ida Cherry, widow; and August Rollfing, housepainter. Isaac Cline got the highest rating, a "B," for "Pays Well, Worthy of Credit." In November of 1893, two years after Isaac arrived in Galveston to open the Texas Section of the new U.S. Weather Bureau, a government inspector wrote: "I suppose there is not a man in the Service on Station Duty who does more real work than he. . . . He takes a remarkable degree of interest in his work, and has a great pride in making his station one of the best and most important in the country, as it is now."
Upon first meeting Isaac, men found him to be modest and self-effacing, but those who came to know him well saw a hardness and confidence that verged on conceit. A New Orleans photographer captured this aspect in a photograph that is so good, with so much attention to the geometries of composition and light, it could be a portrait in oil. The background is black; Isaac's suit is black. His shirt is the color of bleached bone. He has a mustache and goatee and wears a straw hat, not the rigid cake-plate variety, but one with a sweeping scimitar brim that imparts to him the look of a French painter or riverboat gambler. A darkness suffuses the photograph. The brim shadows the top of his face. His eyes gleam from the darkness. Most striking is the careful positioning of his hands. His right rests in his lap, gripping what could be a pair of gloves. His left is positioned in midair so that the diamond on his pinkie sparks with the intensity of a star.
There is a secret embedded in this photograph. For now, however, suffice it to say the portrait suggests vanity, that Isaac was aware of himself and how he moved through the day, and saw himself as something bigger than a mere recorder of rainfall and temperature. He was a scientist, not some farmer who gauged the weather by aches in a rheumatoid knee. Isaac personally had encountered and explained some of the strangest atmospheric phenomena a weatherman could ever hope to experience, but also had read the works of the most celebrated meteorologists and physical geographers of the nineteenth century, men like Henry Piddington, Matthew Fontaine Maury, William Redfield, and James Espy, and he had followed their celebrated hunt for the Law of Storms. He believed deeply that he understood it all.
He lived in a big time, astride the changing centuries. The frontier was still a living, vivid thing, with Buffalo Bill Cody touring his Wild West Show to sellout crowds around the globe, Bat Masterson a sportswriter in New Jersey, and Frank James opening the family ranch for tours at fifty cents a head. But a new America was emerging, one with big and global aspirations. Teddy Roosevelt, flanked by his Rough Riders, campaigned for the vice presidency. U.S. warships steamed to quell the Boxers. There was fabulous talk of a great American-built canal that would link the Atlantic to the Pacific, a task at which Vicomte de Lesseps and the French had so catastrophically failed. The nation in 1900 was swollen with pride and technological confidence. It was a time, wrote Sen. Chauncey Depew, one of the most prominent politicians of the age, when the average American felt "four-hundred-percent bigger" than the year before.
There was talk even of controlling the weather--of subduing hail with cannon blasts and igniting forest fires to bring rain.
In this new age, nature itself seemed no great obstacle.

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Isaac's Storm 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 132 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love to read history books, however some can be hard to get into. This is not the case with this book! I read it in less than a week. It was very well written and gave a gripping account of a horrible storm. It really makes you realize how lucky we are today to have advance hurricane warnings!
Faysie-May More than 1 year ago
This was very well written with a great deal of historical research presented in a very readable, non-dry narrative. The book chronicles events leading up to and including accounts of the hurricane of 1900 that wiped out Galveston. It is seen in large part via the chief meteorologist there at the time. This is not the usual type of book I would read. I expected to be bored by the meteorology information, and though there was some in the first of the book I didn't find enthralling, it was worth reading to understand the whole picture. Once the actual hurricane accounts started, I couldn't put the book down! The 1900 hurricane in Galveston was a tragedy that could have been mitigated greatly in terms of massive loss of lives had only the warning signs been investigated. There was arrogance on the part of the main meteorologist in Galveston, and in addition there were also in-house political issues among U.S. weather service leaders and personnel that stifled communication or collaboration. The accounts of the survivors who lived through the hurricane are horrifying but riveting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't help but read this once I saw it. My wifes grandfather survived the storm as in infant. He was was born in August of 1900 and the storm came the next month. His mother told him their two story home floated down the street with them in it. My mother in law gave me a pendulum clock that I am looking at. She said it floated in Angelo's restaurant. I can still see water stains on its face as I write this. I don't think I understood what people in my family knew about this event until I read Isaac's Storm. I go to Galveston and wonder why some many homes are being built on the beach.Don't they know what happened? It will happen sadly again. I survived Carla in the center of the storm in 1961 in Port Lavaca. I know what can happen. After Galveston and after New Orleans you would think others would know. They don't. Darrell Cameron Houston Resident
Guest More than 1 year ago
Isaac's Storm was a great book. It takes place in Galveston, TX on September 8th and 9th, 1900. There was a hurricane offcoast and Washington DC told Isaac Cline that it was no threat, it was great weather, so he believed them. But he saw the ocean get worse and worried. When he figured out that this was a bad hurricane, it was too late for many people. The city was destroyed and about 6000 people were dead, including his wife and kid. Issac carried it on his shoulders that it was his fault, that he was careless once, and a horrible hurricane hit. This book's message is that man's faliure to predict when, where, and how a storm will hit can lead to a horrible ending. Isaac's Storm has 6 chapters, each one leading up to the storm. Each one, telling a little bit more about this misunderstanding, and Isaac's training. This book is perfect for teenagers and up. It is a great weather adventure story. I love this book, I think that it has a great balance between the actual storm and it's effects on so many people and the people that try to prevent storms like the category 5 hurricane that hit Galveston.
RaiderRealm More than 1 year ago
I had always heard of this terrible hurricane and I wanted to read about the actual event. I did not expect this book to be so captivating and entertaining. The impending doom is an underlying current throughout the book. The author inserts many personal perspectives including the weather forecaster's family along with many other Galveston residents. The reader gets a visual and factual perspective of life at the turn of the century and the crude tools used to predict the weather. This lack of technology and lack of communication led to the deaths of over 10,000. I recommend this book without any hesitation. The research is well done, the vision of life in 1900 and the unspeakable power of God's power is wonderfully presented by Mr. Larson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could hardly stop reading this book. It was touching and horrifying at the same time as Mr. Larson told the story of the deadly Galveston Hurricane. He is very good at telling a story from brief documented facts. I've enjoyed all of his books and would recommend any of them. I learn so much history while enjoying a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Since I live in Galveston and having  been here thru Ike, I found this book very vivid, emotional excellent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compelling and full of period details
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish that the street maps were full size. Their miniscule size in the e-book version made them useless. It would have been helpful to have a readable map to reference since so much of the story referred to specific street locations. I felt frustrated that the actual Galviston storm narrative doesn't really begin until you've read about a third of the way through. I didn't mind the technical weather related information....but the extensive background info of characters that had no major role in the story was tiresome. The actual storm experiences (once they finally started) told from different points of view and vantage points was riviting and put a face on this terrible tragedy. After reading this book I will never again hear about a hurricane's aftermath in the news without feeling empathy for the souls effected. Finally, I would love to have seen some before and after photos of the city included in the book. A good read.
Granx6 More than 1 year ago
I actually heard this in the audio version and had to have the book for myself! I was hooked from the beginning, anyone interested in history, this is a MUST READ! Granx6
fish2006 More than 1 year ago
This is story of a tragic event in American history. The book brought history to life and keeps you in engaged to the very end. This book made me appreciate weather stations even more.
Anonymous 2 days ago
kbooe on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Larson has created a very readable and engaging period piece giving readers the opportunity to imagine not only what life must have been like on the Texas Gulf Coast at the turn of the Century, but also how much we rely on meterological technology and disaster/storm predictions today. His narrative prosaic style brings his non-fiction to life and reminds one of the way Capote could capture factual events and "novelize" them. One becomes sympathetic with the protagonist and central character, Isaac Monroe Cline, who battles the US Weather Service as well as the "storm of the century." This is a real page-turner and while not as gripping or remarkable as Larson's The Devil in White City, this earlier title is well worth the read and any subsequent research. Bravo.kbooe
Doozer on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A well-told story. It is both informative and a page turner.
Cygnus555 on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I loved this book. Regretably, I loaned it out and never saw it again!! But with that being said, I liked it enough that I will replace it in my library when I come across it again. Historically very interesting book - I learned so much.
debherter on LibraryThing 5 days ago
An excellent narrative of the great Galveston hurricane. Highly recommended.
DrRex on LibraryThing 5 days ago
History of the hurricane that destroyed Galveston through the experience of a meteriologist
sarathena1 on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Larson writes really well. This story is decent and interesting. Not nearly as good as the story behind Devil in the White City, but written superbly. I always find myself wondering how such and such historic figure felt during whatever time of tragedy or triumph. This is why I find Larson's books so compelling. Gives me suggestions.
caerulius on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Erik Larson writes fascinating non-fiction. This book, which addresses the Galveston hurricane of 1900 or 1899 (I haven't read it in a while), not only gives you an understanding of the impact and aftermath of the storm, but takes you as far back as the butterfly-effect beginnings of the storm. The storm is treated as a character, given chapters in which it swells and changes before decimating the Gulf. Larson also uses correspondence and other media to flesh out the personal stories of the disaster, the families trapped on rooftops, etc. There is nothing dry or stuffy about the writing or content- he makes the time period and the event both immediate and real.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 10 days ago
Erik Larson, who also wrote Devil in the White City (another phenomenal book) is an outstanding writer. I picked this book up and couldn't put it down. I was simply riveted to the story and to the way Larson presented it. Obviously the man's done his homework, if the last few pages of primary sources is any indication. But his prose is also very powerful & his organization well crafted. All told, even people whose first inclination when reading history is suggested is a "ugh!" would enjoy this book. I recommend it to anyone who can's one you should not miss. The story of Isaac's storm is based on the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston and left in its wake a 15-foot tidal surge and somewhere around 4000 people dead. The storm is chronicled from its beginning until it hits Galveston, which may sound kind of boring, but trust me; this storm is the major player in this book. It is also a story of Isaac Cline, who with his family lived in Galveston, and served as an officer for the U.S. Weather Service, where politics & petty rivalries led to a great deal of bureaucratic inertia which played a role in the thousands of deaths the hurricane left behind. It is important to realize that at this time there was very little information available or even understood about the nature of hurricanes. What passed for science back then in this area was a great deal of speculation. The people who really understood hurricanes were those who lived in the Caribbean; but because of some problems with Cuba stemming from political rivalries & the war of 1898 (and because of the stupidity of the head of the Weather Service at the time), reports coming out of Cuba dealing with the 1900 hurricane were summarily dismissed as being too "passionate" and full of drama. Sad thing, too, because the Cubans predicted that the hurricane would turn into the Gulf and hit the coast of Texas. I really don't want to spend a lot of time summarizing this book; it was one to be read and savored. After finishing this book earlier today, I bought a copy to keep at home in my non-fiction/history library. This is a fantastic story even though it is incredibly tragic. You will find that you are unable to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was amazed at the detailed trivia in the book that I attributed to artistic license. Even more amazed at the end when the author showed the research and rationale for those items. I enjoyed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't usually read much non-fiction but thought this sounded interesting. I was not disappointed.
Go4Jugular More than 1 year ago
Erik Larson is one of my go-to authors - odd topics that initially seem only tangentially related become, in his hands, inextricably intertwined and interesting, even (usually) fascinating. So I bought this novel with only a cursory glance at the back cover and found, both to my relief and disappointment, that he is not perfect. The topic, the 1900 hurricane that savaged Galveston, TX was timely, given that I finished reading it about 10 days before Hurricane Harvey struck TX (August 2017). In fact, the best parts of the book are those that deal with the state of the art of storm prediction and reporting at the turn of the century, particularly in juxtaposition to the ability we now have to track and report on extreme weather. What was missing, though, was a protagonist, or protagonists, with strong character development, around which the narrative could evolve. Both the historical and personality elements are otherwise present in Larson's other novels; the lack of the latter, in this case, makes it his least accomplished effort. And note to the publisher - photography had been around for decades, and specific photos are even referenced in the text; why not give the reader a few to peruse? But make no mistake, Mr. Larson is still on the buy-first, ask-questions-later list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even after living in Houston fur over ten and visiting Galveston several times, I current know half of what is contained in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book but not my favorite one by Larson, ive read all of his except Dead Wake. This book was a little slow for me through most of it until the storm hits, then it comes alive and fascinating.