Friday, November 7, 2014

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same.

My take: 2.5 looks
A harrowing tale of January 12, 1888 in the newly settled US plains. The History Channel website puts it like this:

On this day in 1888, the so-called "Schoolchildren's Blizzard" kills 235 people, many of whom were children on their way home from school, across the Northwest Plains region of the United States. The storm came with no warning, and some accounts say that the temperature fell nearly 100 degrees in just 24 hours.
It was a Thursday afternoon and there had been unseasonably warm weather the previous day from Montana east to the Dakotas and south to Texas. Suddenly, within a matter of hours, Arctic air from Canada rapidly pushed south. Temperatures plunged to 40 below zero in much of North Dakota. Along with the cool air, the storm brought high winds and heavy snows. The combination created blinding conditions.

THAT I can understand! However, Laskin takes this story and, instead of making it real to the average reader, bogs down the text with an abundance of technical terms, protracted weather explanations and hard-to-follow story lines. I will take one at a time.

While I appreciate Laskin's desire to educate me on weather phenomena, his use of meteorological terminology did little to boost my understanding of why this blizzard occurred. Instead, reading the reasons, lows, highs, barometric pressures, and such was like swimming in quicksand. I quickly abandoned careful reading and resorted to skimming - something I am sure no author desires from his audience.

The weather causes and effects explained in a careful scientific manner went on and on, bogging me down regularly. That, added to the character-heavy ramblings, and I was thoroughly confused chapter after chapter. There was almost a feeling of "oh, by the way, since I mentioned him, let me tell you his life story."  I would have rather been introduced to a few key families and followed them throughout the story.

Because of the subject matter, and to honor the over 200 people that perished, I really wanted to like this book. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this one.

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