Roker's account will interest readers who previously knew nothing about the Galveston hurricane. However, Isaac's Storm is...



Today weather anchor Roker (Never Goin' Back: Winning the Weight Loss Battle for Good, 2012, etc.) recounts the hurricane that leveled Galveston, Texas, during September 1900, killing an estimated 10,000 people.

The narrative of the storm and its gruesome aftermath moves along briskly, but some readers may wonder why the author decided to devote his celebrity name and his time to an account that has been told better in Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (1999) and John Edward Weems' A Weekend in September (1957). In his "Note on Further Reading," Roker acknowledges those two books as vital sources for his version of the historical record. He also states that his book is the first to use the oral histories collected in Izola Collins’ Island of Color (2004), “which preserves the history of Galveston’s African American community from Juneteenth to the post-segregation era.” How the oral histories collected by Collins fit into Roker’s narrative, however, is unclear. Roker’s accounts of the suffering of hundreds of individuals are, for the most part, compelling. Most are tragic, and some are uplifting. But they drift throughout the book, with little sense to the order in which they appear, disappear temporarily, and then reappear. Roker's weather-forecasting experience serves him well, and the narrative is strongest when he turns from the seemingly random minidramas of individuals to explain the forces of nature at play. The grimmest portion of the book, understandably, deals with how the Galveston residents who survived labored to bury the dead—first in the ocean, which proved difficult to accomplish, and then by cremation via open fires. The stench was pervasive and potentially deadly.

Roker's account will interest readers who previously knew nothing about the Galveston hurricane. However, Isaac's Storm is not out of date and deserves its place as the recommended version.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-236465-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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