Reading about disasters

Feb 18, 2006

On Thursday, I was supposed to join the science writers book club for our monthly meeting, but a stalled truck on the skinny section of NC 54 caused a long traffic delay, and I didn’t get home (with the girls in tow) until it was too late to get back for the meeting (and Erin was parked in the law library anyway, finishing her first legal brief).

So, I missed out on the discussion of by David McCullough, a fascinating book about the 1889 disaster that killed more than 2200 people, including at least two of my relatives, brothers Edward Hirsch and Henry Hirsch (see how I’m related to them and see a list of other victims here).

Also this week, I’ve been reading the classic account of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, a super-long essay by John Hersey. It first appeared in the New Yorker—I’m reading it from the —and then appeared as the book .

Another article that I’ve got on my reading pile is “The Day the Sea Came,” an account of the 2004 Asia tsunami by Barry Bearak in the NYTimes Magazine last November.

All three of these accounts, of course, are tales of disaster and death, and as I read them, I can’t help but think of 9/11 or this week’s victims of the mudslides in the Philippines. I’m intrigued by the shock of disasters on people, and intrigued by the reactions of those who know to quickly respond or flee or duck out of the line of a blast. (I wrote about how my fascination with natural disasters has turned to caution and respect here.)

And that’s reminded me of William Langeweische’s gripping A Sea Story about a ferry disaster in the Baltic Sea in which those who responded immediately to the slight but different lurch in the ship lived, just like those men and women who remembered the lore of the elders knew to run for high ground when they saw the sea receding. Langeweische’s article made me remember that as a boy, I saw The Poseidon Adventure on the television, and I vividly remembered those scenes when I was on a ferry in the roiling strait between New Zealand’s North and South islands. A remake of the Poseidon film is due out this year.

So, while my minor traffic delay this week seemed important at the time, I’ve got perspective. If I seem a little jumpy, too, you’ll know why.

Anton Zuiker

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