Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's the End of the World as We Know It...and I Feel Fine

At around 3:30 this morning I woke up, and while I was trying to figure out exactly why I would wake up at such an ungodly hour of the morning, 50 mile per hour winds told me why. I'm a recent first-time home buyer, and I'm quite convinced my house is going to collapse while I'm sleeping. We had some pretty nasty winds a few weeks ago in the middle of the night, which caused my house to shake. Last night was a repeat performance - needless to say I got very little sleep.

Since I tend to lean towards the melodramatics and because of my (what I consider) life-threatening experience last night, today's post features non-fiction disaster books. I just cannot get enough of this stuff. Am I just a horrible human being that revels in other people's misery?  Regardless, recently I've read quite a few books in this vein and I've got quite a few on my TBR pile to get to. I'll keep this post on the ones that I've read, and will do a follow up post later when I've read more. (note: I found several of these books on the fantasic user-voted list on GoodReads here).

The Johnstown Flood (Paperback)The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
Man, David McCullough knows how to write a book, no doubt about it. This is one of three in his engineering series (the other two go over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal). Being from Pennsylvania myself, this hit a little closer to home, mostly by being able to recognize some of the main characters in the steel business. Thousands of people died in this disaster, a result of a dam failure. McCullough does an excellent job recounting the exact events in this book and is easy to follow, but also shows a lot of respect for the tragedy that occured and those who lost their lives. This was one of my favorite books that I read in 2009. Pennsylvania residents as well as people interested in the steel business will also enjoy this book.

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in HistoryIsaac's Storm by Erik Larson
Best known for the book, The Devil in the White City (a phenomenal read), Larson's earlier work Isaac's Storm should not be overlooked. It tells the story of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 mostly through the eyes of the meteorologist of the town. If you though Katrina was bad, you were wrong. Larson has a particular gift for weaving a story without getting into to much speculation on the thoughts of historical figures. If you can, read this after the Johnstown Flood, since this event did occur later and there are a few meaningful references to it.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
If you like your disaster books a little, well, less national but still want a fascinating slice of American history, I highly recommend In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The sinking of the Essex was the inspiration for Melville's Moby Dick, but the true story goes so much further than that. It does go into detail in the whaling industry, so if you're squeamish about that kind of thing you might want to steer clear of this book. If not, please do not miss this one. I found it incredibly riveting, and was also one of my favorite reads of 2009.

I think the reason I enjoy these types of books so much is it shows two extremes of human nature: the lengths that man will go through for money, fame, and respect, and the the lengths that man will go through to survive. Just like any Shakesperian tragedy, these real-life events feature a villian whose decisions (often small ones) come at the expense of the others, and the heroes who manage to live through some of the most daunting experiences humankind has ever faced. Or maybe I really am just a sucker for tragedies.

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