A riveting trek combining enthralling nature writing with engaging social history.

A National Book Award finalist unravels the compelling back story of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Olson (Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition, 2003, etc.) combines nature writing with an investigative focus on the political, economic, and historical factors that changed the way scientists study volcanoes. Whether the author is delving into the dangers of working in the timber industry, offering an overview of the state of volcanology in 1980, or recounting the stories of individuals living and working near Mount St. Helens, his writing propels readers swiftly along as the story races toward the massive blast and its aftermath. Olson details the story of Weyerhaeuser, the infamous Washington logging company that owned “substantial portions of the land between Mount St. Helens and the Pacific Ocean.” The author weaves in both the corporate and family history of the Weyerhaeusers (“an American dynasty”), using that remarkable story as foundation for his narrative. This framework offers a compelling look into the region’s environmental and social history and how the company and the timber industry shaped a region. “It is difficult to overstate the significance of Weyerhaeuser Company to the history of the Pacific Northwest,” writes the author. “Weyerhaeuser and other economic interests have formed the backdrop against which much of the region’s history has played out.” Olson pinpoints 1980, the year of the eruption, as significant due to the social, economic, and environmental changes taking shape across America and what these shifts meant for the timber industry. The author provides an engrossing explanation of volcanology during the 1980s and how the eruption of Mount St. Helens altered the prevailing science. He also captures the forgotten or untold stories of the individuals who perished in the blast and describes the political wrangling surrounding the status of the devastated area.

A riveting trek combining enthralling nature writing with engaging social history.

Pub Date: March 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24279-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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