Book Review: Eruption

“A natural disaster is not a disaster until it becomes a human disaster; otherwise, in the minds of most people, it is a mere spectacle.”

This is one of my favorite lines from Steve Olson’s 2016 book, ERUPTION: The Untold Story Of Mount St. Helens. It perfectly sets the tone for the entire narrative : an honest and humanistic telling of the events of 1980. No one was prepared for what happened – the eruption was one of the largest in American history, killed 57 people and caused over a billion dollars in damage.

ERUPTION is coded as Science and the strikingly beautiful cover – featuring an erupting Mount St. Helens – only hints at the depths the book goes into while telling the tale of this dramatic natural disaster. You think you’re going to learn about the geology of volcanoes – and you certainly do – but the book is much more than that : a sympathetic tribute to the humans who found their lives intertwined with Nature in a powerful, life-altering way that fateful summer.

Olson is a master at weaving these stories through the narrative in a way that is easy and uncontrived. We learn about the science teams, the logging industry, and the local residents who were all major players in what transpired during those months and trace the final days of those who perished. We discover how decisions made even decades ago influenced the events of that day – of all the economic and political factors that shaped the fates of the victims.

I can’t recommend this book enough! It was a sweeping, cinematic look back at an important time in our nation’s history and Olson helped put everything into a larger context, interweaving personal tales with politics and capitalism in a moving and evocative way. It’s a great book for those interested in Natural History, Conservation, or the Pacific Northwest.

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