Thursday, June 23, 2011

Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

I chose non-fiction this week for no particular reason. I read this book about 8 years ago and fell in love with the writing style of David McCullough. Although you are reading about history, I know many of those reading this blog hate it, he tells the story through narrative style which makes it so much more interesting to read. I've also read John Adams and 1776 and plan to read his newest; The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. He tells a tale like no other; you are missing out if you haven't read any of his books.

The history of civil engineering may sound boring, but in David McCullough's hands it is, well, riveting. His award-winning histories of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal were preceded by this account of the disastrous dam failure that drowned Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. Written while the last survivors of the flood were still alive, McCullough's narrative weaves the stories of the town, the wealthy men who owned the dam, and the forces of nature into a seamless whole. His account is unforgettable: "The wave kept on coming straight toward him, heading for the very heart of the city. Stores, houses, trees, everything was going down in front of it, and the closer it came, the bigger it seemed to grow.... The height of the wall of water was at least thirty-six feet at the center.... The drowning and devastation of the city took just about ten minutes." A powerful, definitive book, and a tribute to the thousands who died in America's worst inland flood.
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