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Ruthless Tide: The Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood, America's Astonishing Gilded Age Disaster Reprint Edition
Contributor(s): Roker, Al

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ISBN: 0062445537     ISBN-13: 9780062445537
Publisher: William Morrow & Co
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Binding Type: Paperback
Published: April 2019


Reads like a nail-biting thriller.” — Library Journal, starred review

A 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.

Additional Information
BISAC Categories:
- History | United States | 19th Century
- Nature | Natural Disasters
- History | United States | State & Local
Dewey: 973
Academic/Grade Level: General Adult
Book type: Non-Fiction
Physical Information: 8.00" H x 5.25" W x 0.50" (0.52 lbs) 305 pages
Descriptions, Reviews, Etc.

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly Reviews (PW Reviews 2018 March #4)

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.
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