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Publisher's Summary

At the end of the last 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 portrait of life in 19th-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. This is a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are behaving responsibly.

©1968 David McCullough (P)2005 Simon & Schuster Inc. AUDIOWORKS is an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What listeners say about The Johnstown Flood

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A page-turner! HIstory that reads like a novel

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

58 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Best I've Heard

In my 2.5 years as an audible listner, this is the best work I have so far listened to!
The author does an excellent job in setting up the background leading up to the envents that it made me feel as if I was there on that fateful day watching the turn of events.
Also, the reader, Edward Hermann could not have done a finer job.

35 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great Listen with Excellent Narration

I have listened to many of David McCllough books, actually my first audible book was his novel 1776. Although nonfiction it reads more like a novel with an excellent description of the devastation created by the Johnstown flood. If you like American history this is a must listen.

About a third of the book is a lead up to the flood, about 1/3 is the flood, and the reminder is the after investigation of the flood. In the end one can suppose mother nature was mostly to blame. THe description of a eighty foot wall of water that tore down the valley after the collapse of the dam is gripping. It is interesting to here the tales of what separated the living from the dead, mostly plain dumb luck

Worth the credit

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Vivid

The story of the Johnstown Flood is the story of America in the late 1880's... robber barons, the industrial revolution, a careless disregard for human life and safety, railroads and telegraphs, the power of nature overwhelming the works of man, heroism and cowardice, disaster on an unimaginable scale followed by compassion on an even greater level.

This is the quintessential book about the flood, read by Edward Herman, one of the great actors of our day. It is detailed, fascinating and sobering.

This book is for you.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great Narrator

Having listened to quite a number of audible selections, including numerous McCullough books, I am quite sure that this narrator is the best of the best. I hope he produces more recordings because he adds so much by his natural and unadorned narrative style that any book he would read, would be worth hearing.

24 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Like You Were There

As the title states, to hear this book is like you were there. A lover of history will surely like this.....an amazing event described wonderfully and narrated very well.

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The story behind the lyrics...

I first heard a reference to this American tragedy from the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's _Nebraska_ album in the early 1980s, and knew it must have been really bad.

This book tells the whole story of the events of that day, as well as what led up to it, the tragic aftermath, and the stories of the heroes and heroines both during the flood, and those who helped the survivors, including Clara Barton, who chaired the American Red Cross in its first major peacetime relief effort.

Meticulously researched, and for the most part, very well written by Mr. McCullough. Listeners should note that the chapter numbering for each part of the book starts at 1, and it's easy to lose track of where you are...

Very well read by Mr. Herrmann.

Highly recommended!

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

detailed and researched

Rich in detail and thoroughly researched. I am from the area where the flood occured and while listening feel that I am transported back in time.

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I can see the wave of water in my mind...

Aside from a paragraph in a high school history text, I knew nothing about the 1889 Johnstown Flood that killed over 2,000. David McCullough has distilled and organized a mountain of information into this very readable, heartbreaking but often humorous account.

It starts a bit slow with how the dam came to be built, abandoned, scavenged and restored... but before long I was holding my breath and then taking a slow motion ride with the wave down the mountain. At times on a floating roof, mattress or in a train car... though the small towns on the river and on into Johnstown. After reading I did an internet search of images and found I had formed very accurate pictures in my mind.

The book follows up nicely with the rush of aid (first response of the Red Cross), reporters and finishes with the resulting lawsuits. So interesting how everyone knew there was a high risk of the dam giving way, but no one prepared for it.





10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Portrait of a tragedy

The prolific and uncommonly accessible historian David McCullough chose the great Johnstown Flood of 1889 as the subject for this book, his first, in 1968. The traits that would define his works are evident here: engaging writing, historical credibility, and deep and detailed research that yields such personal and personable accounts of places and characters, you’d swear McCullough must have been present himself. (It’s also just slightly dated. In 1968 we were still saying “all men” instead of “all people,” but that’s history for you.)

The chronology unfolds against a portrait of Johnstown as a working class, company town, populated by hardworking people with big families. It was a steel town—a major center for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Cambria Iron Works. Fourteen miles upstream on the Little Conemaugh River and 450 feet higher than the town, the reservoir known as Lake Conemaugh held 20 million tons of water behind an aging earthen dam. What was built as a reservoir to feed a defunct canal system had become the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a private retreat for Pittsburgh industrialists and their families.

A convergence of factors—a river narrowed by development, unwise changes to the dam, and an unprecedented series of rainstorms—combined to produce the horror of May 31. Water burst from the swollen lake and roared downstream, preceded by a wall of debris taller than the 78-foot stone railroad bridge it first crushed. The flood wiped smaller villages off the earth on its way to Johnstown, where it arrived in less than an hour. The destruction was nightmarish, and then became unimaginably worse when a mountain of wreckage, bound together by the remains of a barbed wire factory, piled against the town’s Stone Bridge and burst into flames. The official death toll was 2,209.

It would have been easy to portray this tragedy simply as the negligence of evil, uncaring tycoons whose poor management of their private lake unleashed it on a doomed populace. And that would be fairly accurate. But McCullough explores the many subtleties instead, getting around to culpability with scarcely an hour to go. While neither the exclusive club nor any of its gold-plated members was ever held accountable, the case did lead to the standard of "strict liability" that was adopted by American law in the next century.

Narrator Edward Herrmann delivers a seemingly effortless, expressive performance that is warm and easy to listen to.

Technical note: Many very long silences, some between chapters and some not, make me think several times that the player had stopped working.

6 people found this helpful

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  • GAC
  • 07-07-21

An horrific and sad tragedy

I listened to this book over some weeks. So compelling was it, I hated having to stop it but actually so overwhelming I think it was probably better to do it this way. This event is skillfully brought to life by the author, thoroughly researched and very balanced. It would have been easy to apportion blame but he doesn’t seek to do this, just telling the build up to these events, the tragedy itself and the aftermath in a way that seeks to look at every aspect. This is a book that is so powerful it will stay with me.

For those who like history this is a must. It builds a picture of living in Johnstown before the flood and the appalling consequences of a major disaster.