I’m a child of the 80s, which means I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War and the arms race, and the very dawn of the era of terrorists. What does that mean? Well, it means if I wasn’t afraid of mushroom clouds or hijackings, I was anxious about falling down a backyard well or the ever present overdue Wasatch Front earthquake. Hence, both my ulcer and my fascination with disaster stories. If you, like me, actually enjoy reading stories of people in desperate circumstances, try this list.
1. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin: Thousands of Europeans immigrated to the plains and prairies of America seeking land, freedom and hope. Short on food and necessities, the blizzard of 1888 killed thousands of children and adults and quickly revealed their new home to be a place both hard and unforgiving.
2. The Perfect Storm: a True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger: Journalist Sebastian Junger takes us on a compelling journey to explore what may have happened to the Andrea Gail and her six-man crew that disappeared in a tremendous storm off the Outer Banks in 1991.
3. Wave of Destruction: the Stories of Four Families and History’s Deadliest Tsunami by Erick Krauss: The story of four villagers that survived the 2004 cataclysmic Tsunami in Southeast Asia.
4. Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David von Drehle: A detailed account of the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village that killed 146 people.
5. Rising Tide: the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America by John M. Barry: In 1927 nearly a million people were forced to evacuate their homes when the Mississippi River flooded the land from Illinois and Missouri south to the Gulf of Mexico.
6. The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley: An account of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it left in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast documents the events and repercussions of the tragedy and its aftermath and the ongoing crisis confronting the region.
7. Touching the Void by Joe Simpson: While climbing a peak in the Andes, Simpson fell from a vertical ice ledge and broke his leg, this is the story of his miraculous survival despite a blizzard, frostbite, broken bones and starvation.
8. The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough: A graphic account of the collapse of a poorly constructed dam and the resulting flood which killed 2,000 people and caused a nationwide scandal.
9. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick: In 1820 the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket, fifteen months later it was sunk by an eighty-ton Sperm whale. The twenty-man crew spent 90 days on 3 small lifeboats battling hunger, thirst, disease and fear.
10. The Great Mortality: an Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of all Time by John Kelly: Chronicles the Great Plague that devastated Asia and Europe in the fourteenth century, documenting the experiences of people who lived during its height while describing the decline of moral boundaries that also marked the period.