The writing was good — not great, but good. It was easy to keep turning pages.
The entire premise is framed around the 57 victims of Mount St. Helens and why they were where they were the day the volcano erupted. The author seeks to answer the obvious question: why were people dying in lahars and pyroclastic flows in 1980, when for over 2,000 years humanity has understood volcanoes to be dangerous? Not only is this interesting and tragic, but it also leads the way for the nonfiction tree to branch out — the author talks about the logging company and its role on the mountain, the Forest Service’s hikes in the woods a week prior to the eruption, the general malaise of the country under Jimmy Carter in 1980, as well as the governor who made some poor decisions. It’s almost like a suspense novel, with each short chapter creeping forward day by day up to the imminent eruption.
The Bad-ish: With a book such as this, adult nonfiction, I would think that the author could use the proper term for a volcanic eruption’s mudflow — which is “lahar.” I think his readers would understand it after it’s defined. Say it: LAHAR.
Too much extemporaneous stuff! This is a slim book and a quick-ish read, so the excess stuff (of which I skimmed and lost nothing) really sticks out as filler when the rest is so short and zippy. A little background on the Weyerhaeuser logging company is fine for context. But not a rundown of the stories of generations of Weyerhaeusers and who they married and where they lived and what they were like up until the founding of the company…before the one running the co. at the time of the eruption. A short nifty paragraph is fine for understanding why George made the decisions he did when warnings were coming out about the risks of having loggers in the woods and the backlash against the Forest Service after the eruption.
Again, writing about each of the volcano’s victims is fine. I (Liked?) his inclusion of each person, their relationships/personality, and why they were in the vicinity of the eruption in the first place. However, detailing one victim’s entire ancestry and where his ancestors came from and the ghost town where they lived is not essential– he is never found, and it’s not a biography of him anyway.
One Final Thought:
I know I just bashed the author for his excessive backstory, but I liked the story about young George Weyerhaeuser getting abducted. That was good fun.