The Johnstown Flood

  • by David McCullough
  • Narrated by Edward Herrmann
  • 9 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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
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- Susan K Donley

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.
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- Ken

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-17-2005
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio