Storm Kings by Lee Sandlin (5 out of 5)

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Look at that gorgeous cover.  A breathtaking, destructive force of Mother Nature. I tell anyone who gives a rat’s ass how much I love tornadoes and weather. Like a true book geek, I also love reading books about them. My friend made a comment about this book and Lee’s previous book Wicked River, something akin to the fact that he thought the books were written about nature going wild. Well, in a sense, that is true of Storm Kings. But it’s also wonderfully readable and factually pertinent to anyone who wonders how the state of meteorology has gotten to where it is today. Lee Sandlin does something not easily done. He makes reading about history and various facets of it not only easy to do but enjoyable. There isn’t a dull moment in this book, and as much of a shame as it it, sometimes history is just plain dull, when retold by some pompous, overwordy author. The reason I enjoy Lee’s books is that I never for one moment was bored with either. And I never hesitate to recommend them to anyone.

Tornado chasers and the art of tornado chasing are big business these days. Meaning, there’s no shortage of cable shows highlighting those who choose to take their lives into their hands on a daily basis by combing the Plains for the most primal of meteorological cycles. Sandlin takes us back to the days when a tornado spotting or touchdown not only spooked those who were in its unwielding path, but brought about talk of it being an unearthly event (New Testament style). The early Plains dwellers who witnessed this phenomenon named it “The Storm King” and all accounts varied widely and vastly. What couldn’t be argued was the force and destruction left behind after “The Storm King” had departed. Sandlin brings the story of the earliest storm chasers to life, and their tales of chasing, predicting, identifying, and yes, even obsessing, over the phenomenon known as the tornado. Benjamin Franklin with his kite and key experiments, Espy and Redfield with their vastly different views of tornadoes and their formations, leading to an all-out feud that lasted many years,  John Park Finley, the first person to line up “spotters” in an attempt to get a jump on tornadoes before their descent, and even an appearance by Ted Fujita, developer of the “Fujita Scale”. I’ve heard of Fujita and obviously I know of Ben Franklin, but I didn’t know the other eccentric grandfathers of meteorology before reading this book. Consider yourself educated on the radically different personas who were populating the weather and earth science field before weather became the next big thing.

There is nothing that Sandlin misses. He hits on all of the major tornado disasters, including the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, which rolled across some three states, including our Illinois, and killed 700 people; and the infamous Peshtigo “Fire Tornado” that killed 1,500 people, among others. Sandlin goes into great detail, but again, I’m not a huge science nerd, and I have to say it was not a pain-in-the ass to read his detailed explanations of Mother Nature’s most unpredictable showstopper. It was a joy. I learned more than I already tricked myself into believing I knew previously! It was absolutely fascinating and I had a blast reading about, well, these ferocious vortexes of violent weather. Reading about the birth of the fascination with the tornado, how they were predicted, handled, and charted until the birth of prominence that became the Doppler radar, was a whole new chapter for me to enjoy and file away in the old memory banks. It’s a book that will stay with me, and that I will recommend to anyone who’s a weather fanatic as myself. The book itself? Informative, riveting, entertaining, and best of all, a true joy to read.


~ by generationgbooks on May 8, 2014.

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