Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Johnstown Flood

You know, sometimes I'm a sucker when it comes to reading books.

One of my parishioners loaned me The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, saying that I had to read it. And I decided to give it a whirl, especially since I didn't know what the book was about. For a little while, I thought this was about the earthquake that rerouted the Mississippi River in Missouri way back when. Nope, not about that at all.

Instead, this is the horrific story of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a good sized town that was wiped out when a dam burst after a freakishly large summer storm. The disaster basically wiped the town out, killing thousands of people.

Like I said, I had never heard of Johnstown or this disaster before. A quick flip through the center section of pictures and drawings certainly got my attention, especially when I came across a photo similar to this one:

So I dove in and, sadly, I think I might regret it.

McCullough is apparently a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and he certainly shows that much attention to detail. Every person who crosses the book's stage is given a thorough biography, even if they aren't all that important to the overall story. There are a lot of details given that, quite frankly, I could have done without (i.e. the list of individual contributions made by different organizations to the relief effort). Some of it is quite helpful; the faulty dam's pedigree helped set the stage nicely for the disaster to come. But the overall effect was simply dry reading, which isn't exactly what you expect from a book about one of the worst floods in American history.

Overall, I'd say that if you're interested in this time period or in Johnstown in particular, this is a good book to pick up. Otherwise, you could probably let it go without missing much.


Pastor Phil said...

Just finished reading 1776 by McCullough. You are right, he is over the top detailed. Military history is not really my thing however. Thanks for the non-recommendation.

Jim Black said...

I live about 30 miles from Johnstown. It was a disappointment that this book was boring. The Johnstown Flood museum is a very interesting stop if you ever visit this area. It is far more interesting than this book.

This flood is still having an effect on the town.