A riveting history of the Mount St. Helens eruption that will "long stand as a classic of descriptive narrative" (Simon Winchester).
For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings from Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington State. Still, no one was prepared when a cataclysmic eruption blew the top off of the mountain, laying waste to hundreds of square miles of land and killing fifty-seven people. Steve Olson interweaves vivid personal stories with the history, science, and economic forces that influenced the fates and futures of those around the volcano. Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative of an event that changed the course of volcanic science, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.
Olson (Count Down) brings cinematic structure to descriptions of the events surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, finding in them a lesson for those tasked with mitigating the effects of future disasters. He sets the scene by presenting the history of the U.S. Forest Service and describing the growth of Weyerhaeuser, a forest-products company that owned much of the land around the mountain. Olson also introduces geologists and their attempts to convey the extent of the volcano's capabilities once it began to rumble in March. A group led by the Forest Service proposed restricting areas, authorized by governor Dixy Lee Ray, but they left land owned by Weyerhaeuser unrestricted despite its proximity to an ominous bulge in the mountain's side. With the danger clear to readers, Olson follows the individuals who were near the mountain on the night before the eruption, reconstructing the final moments of those who died and the paths that the survivors took to where they could be rescued. He concludes with descriptions of the explosion's aftermath, the establishment of the national monument, and the scientific advances based on research on the eruption. Making it clear that these deaths could have been prevented by properly established restricted areas, Olson takes a detailed and human-centered look at a terrible disaster.