Yup, we’ve got that one

And more than one million more. Become a member today and read free for two weeks.

Read free for two weeks
The stunning story of one of America’s great disasters, a preventable tragedy of Gilded Age America, brilliantly told by master historian David McCullough.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hardworking families striving for a piece of the nation’s burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 people. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal.

Graced by David McCullough’s remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly.

Topics: Pennsylvania, Gilded Age, Emotional, Informative, Natural Disasters, Survival, and Death

Published: Simon & Schuster on May 31, 2007
ISBN: 9781416561224
List price: $13.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
Availability for Johnstown Flood
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.
Clear rating

David McCullough explores one of the nation's most devastating natural disasters. His research reveals the events that led up to the tragedy and exposes surprising details about some very prominent characters from our nation's past. As always McCullough delivers the epic tale with a captivating method that will keep you riveted. The book climaxes with the flood but keeps you interested with its revelations about the devastating events results and with heroic stories of rescue and relief. This is an essential read that reveals much more about the nation's history than the solitary story of a single community.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Being from Pennsylvania, I grew up with stories of the flood and read this book a few times over the years. However, it was not until a couple of years ago that I actually went to Johnstown - and on a very rainy early summer day.Seeing the topography of the area is startling; when you are downtown you have the feeling of being in the bottom of a box, the valley is so steep and so surrounded by hills. I finally got the sense of how trapped everyone was, and how deadly the flood had to have been.The book gives a good sense of foreboding, and follows through with moment-by-moment action. And as the rain got heavier and it got harder to see the road, I was happy to get out of Johnstown that day.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David McCullough's first book is a gripping read about a man-made natural disaster near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1889. The Pittsburgh plutocracy, among them Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, refurbished a dam on the cheap to create a private fishing resort. They only cared about their recreation. The poor steel workers toiling down below the dam in Johnstown and their families do not enter into their consideration. McCullough is a masterful storyteller who knows not to shatter the illusion of the American Dream.Johnstown illustrates some of the common patterns of typically American catastrophes. A basic neglect, a preference for laisser faire and an absence of regulation and regulatory power means everybody and nobody is in charge. Critical voices do not find listeners, neither in government nor by the dam's owners. Much of the work is outsourced, delegated until nobody feels responsible to check the quality and assume responsibility for the work. When the disaster finally happens, there are no plans nor precautions. The victims, thus, are the poor and the weak. On the positive side, there is a tremendous outburst of human interest, help and contributions, which diminishes as soon as media attention moves on. The corporate owned media is unwilling to call out the real bad guys. The judicial system is unable and unwilling to punish them. Politicians want their contributions, so the guilty robber barons ride into the sunset, free and unpunished, leaving the public to clear up the mess.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

David McCullough explores one of the nation's most devastating natural disasters. His research reveals the events that led up to the tragedy and exposes surprising details about some very prominent characters from our nation's past. As always McCullough delivers the epic tale with a captivating method that will keep you riveted. The book climaxes with the flood but keeps you interested with its revelations about the devastating events results and with heroic stories of rescue and relief. This is an essential read that reveals much more about the nation's history than the solitary story of a single community.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Being from Pennsylvania, I grew up with stories of the flood and read this book a few times over the years. However, it was not until a couple of years ago that I actually went to Johnstown - and on a very rainy early summer day.Seeing the topography of the area is startling; when you are downtown you have the feeling of being in the bottom of a box, the valley is so steep and so surrounded by hills. I finally got the sense of how trapped everyone was, and how deadly the flood had to have been.The book gives a good sense of foreboding, and follows through with moment-by-moment action. And as the rain got heavier and it got harder to see the road, I was happy to get out of Johnstown that day.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David McCullough's first book is a gripping read about a man-made natural disaster near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1889. The Pittsburgh plutocracy, among them Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, refurbished a dam on the cheap to create a private fishing resort. They only cared about their recreation. The poor steel workers toiling down below the dam in Johnstown and their families do not enter into their consideration. McCullough is a masterful storyteller who knows not to shatter the illusion of the American Dream.Johnstown illustrates some of the common patterns of typically American catastrophes. A basic neglect, a preference for laisser faire and an absence of regulation and regulatory power means everybody and nobody is in charge. Critical voices do not find listeners, neither in government nor by the dam's owners. Much of the work is outsourced, delegated until nobody feels responsible to check the quality and assume responsibility for the work. When the disaster finally happens, there are no plans nor precautions. The victims, thus, are the poor and the weak. On the positive side, there is a tremendous outburst of human interest, help and contributions, which diminishes as soon as media attention moves on. The corporate owned media is unwilling to call out the real bad guys. The judicial system is unable and unwilling to punish them. Politicians want their contributions, so the guilty robber barons ride into the sunset, free and unpunished, leaving the public to clear up the mess.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Near Johnstown PA there was a earth and wood dam which had been built to augment the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a resort spot favored by members Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and other tycoons of the 19th century. However, the construction was poorly executed, maintenance was not ongoing so that conditions deteriorated and later alterations severely jeopardized the structure. Then in spring of 1889, the Johnstown area was hit with more rain than normal, the dam which had started to leak, broke and the town and residents were swept away.One would think that would be the story and nothing further, but Mr. McCollough manages to take the dry historical facts and with interviews from actual witnesses, weaves a story that captivates the reader.I listened to an audio version narrated by Edward Hermann - this was the perfect match of voice and tale. Together Mr McCollough and Mr. Hermann could probably turn training manuals into must reads!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Edward Herrmann narrates and he is fabulous. The first part of the book is build-up and background about the dam and things, but then it gets really riveting when the dam breaks. I like connecting with characters, so I think I would have been more into it if the book had followed a handful of people throughout the tragedy. But it was interesting and Edward Herrmann could probably read me the phone book and I'd be okay with it.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Interesting, but somehow unsatisfying. A lot of detail on the setting for the disaster - establishing the wealth, and power, and wealth, and past and future, and wealth (it got rather boring, actually) of the club members; the working-class-ness of the town (steel mills, basically); and why and how the dam was built and repaired and re-repaired (that was actually interesting, a bit). And he introduced a few people from Johnstown. Then the flood itself. A very very very detailed description of how the water came down - where it raced through, where it sloshed between mountains where the river swerved back and forth, exactly what it did to each town...not bad, but it would have been greatly improved by a simple sketch map replicated at each point where he was describing what the flood was doing, with a pointer on the map to "I'm talking about _here_". He spent paragraphs, and sometimes pages, locating the flood and describing its movement; the map would have been clearer, more accurate, and smaller on the page. It got even more detailed when the flood reached Johnstown itself; the flood more or less ended there, with a dam of debris up against a bridge that managed to stand. Some of the people introduced in the scene-setting characters showed up, along with a good many more not previously mentioned - the disasters suffered, miraculous escapes, where the flood took them and where they ended up when it finally stopped. Then an equally detailed, but even more confusing, description of the aftermath of the flood - what had been destroyed, what hadn't (not much), what people did to begin to recover and the (justified) fears of disease and the like from the bodies, of people and animals, carried down and thrown about and sometimes buried by the flood. The timeline here was - a spaghetti mess. He kept talking about this happened on Sunday and this happened on June 9th and a couple weeks later these people came to help and then this happened Monday...ghahh! I could not keep track, and it wasn't interesting enough for me to go back and keep checking to figure out what happened when. There's a lot about the rescue and rebuilding efforts, including the role of the railroad and the newly-created Red Cross. The final chapters dealt mostly with various suits brought or threatened against the club, and what the press chose to blame the flood on - it ranged from the sin of the town (God must have wiped them out because of their sinfulness!) to criminal negligence on the part of the club as a whole. There's some mention of how blaming it on the rich people led to attitudes that supported various strikes and continuing dislike for the rich, over the next decades. McCullough takes a balanced view - it was the club members' fault that they believed that those who'd rebuilt the dam actually knew what they were doing, and it was the townsfolk's fault that they believed that the club members knew what they were doing and were keeping an eye on the dam. But the whole thing kind of dribbles out into no conclusion or decision - almost all the suits were dismissed, some before they actually got to court. The dead got a nice big space up on top of a hill, while Johnstown was rebuilt down in the valley where it had been before. And McCullough concluded that if you're going to make changes in natural environments, you need to know what the long-term effects are and consider not just the normal course of events but extreme (weather) events as well - hundred-year storms and the like. Which is a pretty floppy conclusion. Not satisfying, which surprises me - I usually really like McCullough. Or at least I've liked the ones I've read so far, enough that he's an automatic buy at a book sale or the like. Maybe I need to read more of his. I'm glad I read it, I know a lot more about the flood now (I think all I knew before was that a dam had broken and wiped out a town - not even where Johnstown was), but I doubt I'll reread.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Load more
scribd