Ruthless tide The heroes and villains of the Johnstown flood, America's astonishing gilded age disaster

Al Roker, 1954-

Book - 2018

Presents a narrative history of the 1889 Johnstown Flood to chronicle key events, the damage that rendered the flood one of America's worst disasters, and the pivotal contributions of key figures, from dam engineer John Parke to American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

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Subjects
Published
New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2018]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
vi, 305 pages, [8] pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 285-292) and index.
ISBN
9780062445513
0062445510
Main Author
Al Roker, 1954- (author)
  • Prologue: "Mr. Quinn is too fearful"
  • Part I: Members and nonmembers. Up on the mountain ; Down in the valley ; How to make a lake ; "No danger from our enterprise" ; Rain
  • Part II: When the dam broke. Tap-tap-tap ; A monster unchained ; Cauldron ; The night of the Johnstown Flood ; Alone in the world
  • Part III: Justice and charity. Some convulsion ; Poor, lone woman ; Frozen with fear ; Strict liability
  • Epilogue: Song and story.
Review by Booklist Reviews

On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, burst open after a heavy rainfall, flooding the town and killing more than 2,200 people. Celebrated NBC weatherman and author Roker follows his highly praised The Storm of the Century (2015) with an equally riveting account of the Johnstown Flood, which still remains the deadliest natural disaster on American soil. Despite the obvious contribution of bad weather to the tragedy, Roker emphasizes early on that much of the blame for the dam's failure rested with steel-industry titans like Andrew Carnegie, whose nearby soil-eroding logging business and unsafe civil-engineering practices made the rupture almost inevitable. In addition to profiling Carnegie and his wealthy cronies, who built the dam for a mountain-lake resort, Roker describes Red Cross founder Clara Barton's efforts to lead a heroic relief operation as well as the fate of several local citizens caught up in the chaos. Roker turns in another informative, solidly written weather-related page-turner sure to please his fans. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The winner of 13 Emmys, New York Times best-selling author Roker returns to the topic of David McCullough's 1968 book, The Johnstown Flood. That flood was set off in 1889 when terrible rains swelled Pennsylvania's Little Conemaugh River, which eventually breached the South Fork Dam. More than 2,200 people were killed in what remains the deadliest flood in U.S. history. With a 50,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The winner of 13 Emmys,New York Timesbest-selling author Roker (The Storm of the Century) returns to the topic of David McCullough's 1968 book, The Johnstown Flood, set off in 1889 when a foot of rain fell in a day in Pennsylvania and still the deadliest flood in U.S. history. With a 50,000-copy first printing; originally scheduled for August 2017. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Imagine 14.55 million cubic meters of water from a private human-made lake rushing down a mountainside, laying waste to towns, factories, railroads and homes, and killing 2,209 people after its dam failed from a relentless rainstorm and years of deliberate neglect from corporate greed. While this sounds like the plot of an ecodisaster movie, this "Great Flood" actually occurred in May 1889 in the steel-manufacturing region surrounding Johnstown, PA. NBC's Today show cohost and weatherman Roker (The Storm of the Century) recounts the stories of the townspeople who were victims of Gilded Age excess. He details how the flood-prone region's rivers and ecosystem were compromised by factory run-off, excessive development, and the failure of the dam, which also contained the lake at a private fishing resort frequented by business tycoons such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. VERDICT Science history and American studies students as well as general readers will find Roker's harrowing tale of survival and loss, which draws from archival resources and oral histories captured in David McCullough's definitive history, The Johnstown Flood, reads like a nail-biting thriller.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

TV meteorologist Roker (The Storm of the Century) revisits the Johnstown Flood, the 19th-century disaster that destroyed a Pennsylvania town, killed thousands, and raised questions of privilege and liability that still resonate. In the Allegheny Mountains, a poorly engineered dam holding back a lake created for an exclusive summer resort gave way on May 31, 1889, sending 20 million tons of debris-choked water hurtling into the town. Roker, with a weatherman's eye, describes the formation of the unprecedented rainstorms that led to the flooding and the "monster unchained" that was the flood itself. He also tells the stories of locals—including Gertrude Quinn, a child who rode out the catastrophe on a floating mattress, and Victor Heiser, a teenager who helped try to save others from postflooding fires—and connects the incident to larger questions: "Sometimes," he writes, "people do things to change the natural situation in ways that, regardless of intention, create human responsibility." The wealthy members of the resort (among them Andrew Carnegie) didn't mean to hurt anyone, but caused the destruction through negligence, for which they were not held legally accountable. Roker's story is both a good yarn and a morality tale about how the powerful can avoid blame for problems caused by their privilege. (May) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An Emmy Award-winning weather anchor presents an account of the 1889 Johnstown Flood that traces the conditions that led to the South Fork Dam breach, killing thousands in what remains the deadliest flood in U.S. history. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Presents a narrative history of the 1889 Johnstown Flood to chronicle key events, the damage that rendered the flood one of America's worst disasters, and the pivotal contributions of key figures, from dam engineer John Parke to American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

'Reads like a nail-biting thriller.' ' Library Journal, starred reviewA gripping new history celebrating the remarkable heroes of the Johnstown Flood'the deadliest flood in U.S. history'from NBC host and legendary weather authority Al Roker Central Pennsylvania, May 31, 1889: After a deluge of rain'nearly a foot in less than twenty-four hours'swelled the Little Conemaugh River, panicked engineers watched helplessly as swiftly rising waters threatened to breach the South Fork dam, built to create a private lake for a fishing and hunting club that counted among its members Andrew Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Carnegie. Though the engineers telegraphed neighboring towns on this last morning in May warning of the impending danger, residents'factory workers and their families'remained in their homes, having grown used to false alarms.At 3:10 P.M., the dam gave way, releasing 20 million tons of water. Gathering speed as it flowed southwest, the deluge wiped out nearly everything in its path and picked up debris'trees, houses, animals'before reaching Johnstown, a vibrant steel town fourteen miles downstream. Traveling 40 miles an hour, with swells as high as 60 feet, the deadly floodwaters razed the mill town'home to 20,000 people'in minutes. The Great Flood, as it would come to be called, remains the deadliest in US history, killing more than 2,200 people and causing $17 million in damage.In Ruthless Tide, Al Roker follows an unforgettable cast of characters whose fates converged because of that tragic day, including John Parke, the engineer whose heroic efforts failed to save the dam; the robber barons whose fancy sport fishing resort was responsible for modifications that weakened the dam; and Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, who spent five months in Johnstown leading one of the first organized disaster relief efforts in the United States. Weaving together their stories and those of many ordinary citizens whose lives were forever altered by the event, Ruthless Tide is testament to the power of the human spirit in times of tragedy and also a timely warning about the dangers of greed, inequality, neglected infrastructure, and the ferocious, uncontrollable power of nature.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

“Reads like a nail-biting thriller.” — Library Journal, starred reviewA gripping new history celebrating the remarkable heroes of the Johnstown Flood—the deadliest flood in U.S. history—from NBC host and legendary weather authority Al Roker Central Pennsylvania, May 31, 1889: After a deluge of rain—nearly a foot in less than twenty-four hours—swelled the Little Conemaugh River, panicked engineers watched helplessly as swiftly rising waters threatened to breach the South Fork dam, built to create a private lake for a fishing and hunting club that counted among its members Andrew Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Carnegie. Though the engineers telegraphed neighboring towns on this last morning in May warning of the impending danger, residents—factory workers and their families—remained in their homes, having grown used to false alarms.At 3:10 P.M., the dam gave way, releasing 20 million tons of water. Gathering speed as it flowed southwest, the deluge wiped out nearly everything in its path and picked up debris—trees, houses, animals—before reaching Johnstown, a vibrant steel town fourteen miles downstream. Traveling 40 miles an hour, with swells as high as 60 feet, the deadly floodwaters razed the mill town—home to 20,000 people—in minutes. The Great Flood, as it would come to be called, remains the deadliest in US history, killing more than 2,200 people and causing $17 million in damage.In Ruthless Tide, Al Roker follows an unforgettable cast of characters whose fates converged because of that tragic day, including John Parke, the engineer whose heroic efforts failed to save the dam; the robber barons whose fancy sport fishing resort was responsible for modifications that weakened the dam; and Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, who spent five months in Johnstown leading one of the first organized disaster relief efforts in the United States. Weaving together their stories and those of many ordinary citizens whose lives were forever altered by the event, Ruthless Tide is testament to the power of the human spirit in times of tragedy and also a timely warning about the dangers of greed, inequality, neglected infrastructure, and the ferocious, uncontrollable power of nature.