Top critical review
Short History of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane
Reviewed in the United States on June 22, 2020
I’ve read several of Erik Larson’s non-fiction works and have always found him to be educational and entertaining. This book, focuses on the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the largest natural disaster in American history, killing over 6,000 people. The book is told largely through the eyes of the National Weather Service station agent in Galveston at the time, Isaac Cline.
As you can imagine, weather forecasting, at the turn of the 20th century, was in its infancy, especially as regards tropical storms and hurricanes. The 1900 Galveston hurricane hit a Texas coast that was completely unprepared, at least partially as a result of conflict between American and Cuban weather services.
Unbeknownst to me, Galveston was one of the most prosperous cities in the United States at the time of the hurricane, eclipsing its next-door neighbor, Houston, as the port of choice for the region. The hurricane largely destroyed the city and allowed Houston to supplant Galveston for regional supremacy.
The story has many interesting tidbits, not just as relates to Galveston and the hurricane, but also the formation and early operation of the National Weather Service and previous posting held by Cline.
The book is rather short and contains a few silly exaggerations, such as claiming that Cline registered a temperature of 134 degrees one summer in Amarillo, and that a raging flood resulted from an upstream hailstorm in the same area, due solely from melting of the hail stones. It also claims storm surges of over 30 feet for the Galveston Hurricane, which certainly seems unlikely.
All in all, a short entertaining read, but not exceptional.