January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent.
By Friday morning, January 13, some 500 people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled.
©2004 David Laskin (P)2016 Tantor
"A gripping story, well told." (School Library Journal)
This book is very well researched and the first third of it includes much information about settlement of the American mid-west and the gathering of meteorological data and weather forecasting at that time. This was so well written that it managed to hold my interest but if you prefer to skim over those chapters, the historical stories of the January 12, 1888 devastating blizzard (and its aftermath) begin with chapter 5 entitled "Cold Front". There are many human interest tales revealed of children and/or adults desperately trying to just get home through zero visibility, high winds, freezing temperatures and stinging snow! It's an unforgettable, spellbinding read.
The author did his homework! This book is wrought with stories handed down over the generations from people who survived this historic storm. He paints a painful and sad tale of life in the rural midwest, taking you back to the Ukraine to follow certain immigrant familes from the start of their journey to the the farmlands where in 1888 they fell victim to this terrible act of god.
The weather forecasting information got a little too technical for me. And the narrator seemed at times to be talking to the point of being out of breath, where he'd kind of spit out the last word of his sentance. I found that a little distracting. But overall this was a great read. I couldn't put it down. I cried at parts. Over a hundred years later and the author leaves you grieving over the losses experienced that awful day.
Super history, thoroughly researched, well placed for optimal interest. Everything about this book will please the reader. Alas, and sadly, one problem with the narrator detracts from the complete pleasure in the audio. It is surprising that such an apparently experienced and otherwise acceptable reader should so obviously sneer when mentioning deity and religious matters - which is at odds with the character, tone, and nature in this history. Don't let that dissonance deter you from this history so fascinating wound and unbound. After a few chapters the sneer, sometimes becoming anger, spreads itself more equitably, better matching the author's tone.
...this will change your mind. Every negative thing that could happen to a group of people happened to these people. They survived one tragedy after another only to be mowed down by an unexpected winter storm. There was a fair amount of tangenting by the author, but I took that as letting us know the subjects as well as possible and appreciated the inclusion of so much detail. It is amazing there were so many letters and writings still in existence describing the era. I found it very enlightening.
...read The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War or The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century. Both were very narrative and super interesting.
The Children's Blizzard...meh. I just don't think Laskin had enough material to work with so the book didn't have much "story," unlike the two I mentioned above. Instead we learn waaaaaay too much about weather in general.
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