In Storm Kings, Lee Sandlin retraces America's fascination and unique relationship to tornadoes and the weather. From Ben Franklin's early experiments, to "the great storm debates" of the nineteenth century, to heartland life in the early twentieth century, Sandlin shows how tornado chasing helped foster the birth of meteorology, recreating with vivid descriptions some of the most devastating storms in America's history. Drawing on memoirs, letters, eyewitness testimonies, and numerous archives, Sandlin brings to life the forgotten characters and scientists that changed a nation and how successive generations came to understand and finally coexist with the spiraling menace that could erase lives and whole towns in an instant.
James Espy, the first meteorologist in America, thought of tornadoes as "rapidly rising column of air" that operated according to the laws of steam power, pumping warm air into cold; his lifelong rival, William Redfield, maintained that the storms were "gigantic whirlwind, spinning around a moving center like a top." Though they were essentially espousing "two halves of the same process," they were never able to reconcile their differences and find common ground. Sandlin, however, deftly synthesizes and illuminates the duality of his title both the tornado itself, which early settlers in America referred to as "the Storm King"; and the individuals who made it their life's work to document, predict, and better understand those despots of the plains. Legendary storms roil throughout the text, from the funnel of fire or as one eyewitness (whose eyeballs were consequently seared) described it, "the finger of God" that destroyed Peshtigo, Wis., in 1871, scorching over a million acres and killing 1,500 people, to the Tristate Tornado of 1925, which rampaged for 219 miles across parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. On ground level, Sandlin describes mankind's efforts to comprehend storms, from Ben Franklin's famous kite experiment to the F1 5 intensity rating system developed by Japanese immigrant Tetsuya Fujita. Sandlin makes talking about the weather much more than a conversational nicety he makes it come brilliantly to life. 16 pages of b&w illus.
Customer ReviewsSee All
It's fascinating to see how little attention was paid to the study of tornadoes. This book goes into great detail of fascinating stories about the people involved through the past 3+ centuries of American life.
This is a great book for science nerds like myself, and history lovers should enjoy it, as well. It was quite interesting, and I learned so much about the history of weather forecasting, as well as the dynamics of the “storm kings.” The good only thing I would add, would be some pictures of damage from some of the tornado outbreaks that occurred after the advent of photography.
Just finished this book after finding a review online somewhere. Great story about all the major players and the evolution of tornado science. Not too technical for a nonscientific mind like mine. Great historical facts and insight into the character and history of the players. Interest to me as I was a supervisor in a call center in Ohio the evening of April 3,1974 while still in college. Still recall as a very scary evening. Thoughts for the recent Moore, OK residents.