Reccomend me some books on great disasters

I have a morbid streak-I love reading about big tragic disasters. I’ve got a ton of books on the Titanic, I’ve read all I can find on the Johnstown Flood and right now I’m reading a book about the great Hartford circus fire, when the Ringling Bros.& Barnum and Bailey Circus tent caught fire in 1944.

What are some other disasters I can read about? Preferably no later than the 1960s. My favorites are usually shipwrecks and fires, but earthquakes, floods, avalanches, blizzards, etc.

That should be “but earthquakes, floods, avalanches, blizzards etc will also do.”

Three that immediately came to mind were:

**Isaac’s Storm ** by Erik Larson. In 1900 a massive hurricane demolished Galveston. This was a very good account focused on Isaac Cline, one of the first professional meterologists.

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. This was the story of the fire at Mann Gulch, Montana in which 13 smoke jumpers died. Many people blamed the actions of Wag Dodge for their deaths. (As an aside, James Keelaghan wrote an excellent song Cold Missouri Waters about this incident)

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. In 1883, the island of Krakatoa disappeared as a result of the volanic eruption of a nearby mountain of the same name. I happened to be reading this when the tsunami hit Indonesia, which made the book even more memorable.

Well, there’s a book called ‘The Pessimist’s Guide to History’ that includes major disasters from all human history, including post-1960. It’s in no way complete, and it’s not particularly more heavy post-1960; still though, they did a good job with this book, it’s so readable.

Oh, that sounds like a good one! Keep ‘em comin’ folks!

For a slightly different sort of disaster book, get Rats, Lice and History : A Chronicle of Disease, Plagues, and Pestilence
It was first published in 1934, so there’s no taint of the 60’s to it.

There’s The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time by Stephen Spignesi.

The Last Voyage of the Lusitania is an oldie-but-goodie.

Desperate Hours: The Epic Story of the Rescue of the Andrea Doria - Richard Goldstein Andrea Doria/Stockholm collision from 1956 There are several books on this, I happen to like this one a lot.

The Fire That Will Not Die - Michele McBride Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school fire in Chicago in 1958 A bit hard to find now but worth reading.

To Sleep with the Angels - David Cowan and John Kuenster Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school fire in Chicago in 1958
What is the title of the circus fire book?


Disaster by the Bay, H. Paul Jeffers
I haven’t read it, but my ex said it was good; it details the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire in 1906 and some of the politics that went on that made it worse than it had to be.

There’s always Batavia’s Graveyard, I can’t remember the author. It’s about a shipwreck in the … 1700’s, I think…where the man in charge of the survivors turned out to be a homicidal maniac bent on raping and killing people in the name of god. Good clean fun.

I always loved my copy of the Reader’s Digest book Great Disasters, when I was a kid. It covers a whole range of history, and a whole lot of different disasters. (Hurricanes, locusts, fires, unseasonable cold weather, earthquakes, plagues, etc.)

It doesn’t, I don’t think, include the Molasses Flood, but it does note Lake Nyos, and the minor plague outbreak in San Francisco.

There’s Explosion at Orly: The Disaster That Transformed Atlanta by Ann Uhry Abrams (it’s hard to find, even through interlibrary loan), about the Orly air crash of 1962.
Maybe not the type of disaster you’re thinking of though.

The Children’s Blizzard was very good. Some of it brought me to tears.

The Johnstown Flood, David McCullouch’s first book, if I recall correctly. Great book on a tragic event.

I don’t know that they’re really disasters, per se, but definitely personal tragedies. You can read up on:

Sir Robert Falcon Scott, 2nd explorer to reach the South Pole in 1912. He was racing a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, and got beat because of his refusal to update his methods. He and his five man team all died on the way back, not far from a large lifesaving cache of food and materials. His is a pretty epic, albeit tragic tale. There’s lots of good books to read - do a search on South Pole, polar exploration, or Scott/Amundsen.

In that vein, Ernest Shackleton also led a coupla expeditions to the South Pole, one of which almost ended in disaster in 1914. His ship, the Endurance, sank in the Antartic, but he managed to save all his crew members with a herculanean feat of endurance and some amazing navigating. His is an amazing story.

George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine, the first explorers to die on Mt. Everest. In 1924, George and Sandy started their push for the summit, were spotted not far from the top by a man on their team, then disappeared. No one knows whether they made the summit, and it’s been one of the enduring mysteries of mountain climbing. The mystery deepened in 1999 when a team of climbers found Mallory’s body on the mountain. Mallory, by all accounts, was a strong climber, and it had always been assumed that Irvine had been the one to fall, the one that was the ultimate cause of their loss. From Mallory’s position on the mountain, however, it was clear that Mallory had fallen, not Irvine. Add in some Chinese reports of an “old English dead” that they had seen sitting or lying elsewhere on the mountain, and the mystery heats up. It’s a fascinating tale. Jochen Hemmleb is the researcher that was a part of the team that found Mallory’s body, and I’ve found his books to be excellent. Tom Holtzen (sp?) is another well-respected author here.

Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, Everest guides who died on Everest in the fated storm of 1996, subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. Another gripping story.

There’s also always Alive, the pretty grim tale of the Rugby players in South America. I found that book to be very well written and a worthwhile read.

I was also going to recommend The Pessimist’s Guide… My copy is from several years ago, but I just saw an updated edition in Barnes and Noble recently. Very readable and a nice reference work My copy is liberally thumbed becasue I constantly have it off the shelf to check on this or that. In fact, it’s right here next to me now – I pulled it yesterday to double check the dates of the Ohio River Basin floods in the 1930s – my daughter is doing a family-history paper and was asking about my grandmother who survived those floods.

I absolutely love these kinds of books - I just finished reading The Children’s Blizzard last week. Here are just a few I can think of off the top of my head!

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Into Thin Air : A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Ship Ablaze : The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum

The Ice Master : The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Ordeal by Hunger

Ada Blackjack : A True Story of Survival in the Arctic

Oh, I read that one too!

The Circus Fire : A True Story of an American Tragedy

I suppose I could put links in, huh?

Scott’s Last Journey
A First Rate Tragedy, also about Scott
The Last Place on Earth, another one on Scott

Endurance The Endurance, more about Shackleton

Ghosts of Everest
Detectives on Everest, more on Mallory
The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine, Holzel’s book