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Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900

by Al Roker

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-236465-4
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

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 However, Isaac's Storm is not out of date and deserves its place as the recommended version.