This is one of the best books I've read on any subject. It is as well-researched as a good history and as superbly paced as a well-written novel. I first read it about ten years ago, making the mistake of starting it in the evening. I ended up staying up all night to finish it! Then I lent it to my brother, who also stayed up all night to finish it! I recently reread it via audiobook -- it is still as gripping as ever!
The story of the Great Johnstown (PA) Flood of 1889, the result of a record-setting rainstorm speeding the failure of an earthen dam, was the top story of its day. The catastrophe, in which over 2,200 were killed, dominnated the front pages of newspapers around the world just as the terrorist strikes of September11, 2001 did in our generation. In fact, until 9/11, it was the single largest loss of American civilian lives in one day (the greater number of deaths of Galveston hurricane disaster of 1903 happened over several days).
Despite the media attention the Flood recieved in its day, it has been all but forgotten to most Americans. Yet it has plenty of lessons to teach the 21st century: altering the environment without consiering the consequences begs disaster; people in positions of authority (the owners of the dam was a secretive club whose members included the likes of industry moguls Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick) don't necessarily act responsibly. The better side of human nature also shines through: despite the fact that their home towns nearly scoured off the map, the survivors of the Flood began almost immediately rebuilding their homes and businesses. The world responded to stories of the Flood with an unprecedented out-pouring of charity.
The Johnstown Flood is still relevant today and David McCullough is just the writer to bring its riveting story to life
As an artist and museum professional, I have spent my career encouraging people to view things left behind as more than just "stuff" to be trashed or relegated to flea markets. The objects, beautiful or utilitarian, can reveal much about the lives and vales of the people who created, used, or saved them. They have stories to tell to those who will listen.
Such treasured things don't merely "decorate" this book, rather they inhabit it, anchoring wounded characters to the world as they weather unthinkable loss. In the hands of the author, works of artists and craftsman come to embody memories of the past and hopes for a tolerable future.
Don't worry! This is not a book about dusty furniture and paintings! It is a story about survival, but not the heroic survival of nonfiction tales (a genre I love, by the way). This is a case of fiction being "truer" than nonfiction. Only heroic tales earn nonfiction book contracts! It takes a novelist to plumb the depths of what nonheroic Theo (mixed-up but not evil) does when confronted with tragic misfortune.
The story is told in first-person and the narrator did an excellent job as Theo, while distinctly voicing other characters to indicate dialog.
In my personal life at the moment, I'm adjusting to the loss of my own mother (very different circumstances, of course) and the things she left behind, much of which is imbued with meaning and memory for me. So many acquaintances (my friends know better!) counsel, "It's just stuff -- get rid of it!" Not to me. Those things are tangible connections to the people I've loved and lost.
So if you are a collector who others suspect of being One of Those Hoarders, you'll find justification in this book and possibly better understanding of why inanimate objects mean more to you than to others.
You don't have to be a collector to enjoy this The Goldfinch, but you should enjoy long, thoughtful books. Even action sequences, filtered through the Theo's thoughts, take much longer than they would in a thriller, but I was never tempted to fast-forward. On the contrary, I regret reaching the end and wish I could follow Theo further along his journey to see how he fares.
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