Non-Fiction / History

The Johnstown Flood

Author: David McCullough

Published By:
Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group

Reviewed by Dorothy Doremus


            I love to read US history, so when I come across a history book that I havenít read or never even heard of, I just have to take a look.  I had never heard of The Johnstown Flood and since the book was written by David McCullough, I knew it would be an accurate and well-told chronicle of the event.

            At the end of the Nineteenth Century in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the steel business, along with the railroads, were giving this sleepy town some prosperity.  Life was really good in the valley and several people built homes, shops and schools in town to accommodate the jobs being created in the area.

            One day, some prospectors were searching for land to build an exclusive hunting and fishing club for some elite wealthy people who wished to remain anonymous.  Unfortunately, the old earth dam that had held the lake for fishing was not properly shored up.  Instead, it was made to appear that it was sound.  After several inspections and engineersí reports, nothing was corrected.  On May 31, 1889 the dam burst and created one of the most deadly disasters ever seen.  Over 2200 people were killed, countless structures were destroyed and life was never the same again for this valley town.

            David McCullough masterfully tells the tale beginning prior to the disaster, revealing to the reader just how so many signs of the tragedy there were and how it could have been avoided. He also takes the reader through the tragedy, telling stories of survival, and follows up with the clean-up, court cases and probes into who should accept responsibility for the tragedy.  The story actually becomes one of David and Goliath with the poor working class against some of the wealthiest men of the time.

            I would absolutely recommend this book.  I loved all of the individual stories of the various families which I considered to be a very nice touch.  I loved how McCullough showed how this tragedy could have been averted so many times and nothing was done.  It just makes you want to scream out to the townspeople to run when the rains come.  His writing, as usual, was fabulous and kept me on edge through the entire book.  A great read!


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