Skip to main content

A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes

Review

A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes

In A FURIOUS SKY, bestselling author Eric Jay Dolin explores hurricanes --- that complex confluence of sky, sea, wind and land that causes so many disasters, costs so much money and so many lives, and remains unpredictable and unpreventable.

The hurricane saga focuses on our hemisphere with storms mainly originating in the Caribbean or the Mexican gulf, and migrating north and east. The native peoples were the first to name these natural disasters. Mayans designated destructive forces as hunrakan, while Taino people called them jurucán, and that general term bled through numerous colonial languages to the word we use today.

"Dolin, who has a doctorate in environmental sciences, has created a highly readable and densely fact-filled study."

Dolin looks at individual storms and their immediate and after effects, as well as our methodology for dealing with them. Though it is now possible to predict that a hurricane is gathering strength and heading in a particular direction, it is still difficult to track its precise path. An early researcher into the general science of weather prediction, Edward N. Lorenz, made great strides in that field, leading to “chaos theory” and his own “provocative question: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

Another unique aspect of hurricanes has been the wish to designate them by name. Initially, an Australian weather forecaster, Clement Wragge, humorously assigned women’s titles to certain storms. This practice took hold in the U.S. --- until the rise of feminism, when a feisty female, Roxcy Bolton, went to war against it. By 1979, major storms would have alternating men’s and women’s names. Around the same time, the rating system for such events went into effect, using “Category” numerics.

The storm ranking first on Dolin’s list of Costliest was Katrina. He brings it to life in dramatic scenes, not merely of the storm’s heavy pounding of the Louisiana coast, but of the later devastation: lost lives, housing and livelihoods, precipitated not solely by the wind and water but also by negligent, and often greedy, regional planning that came to light in Katrina’s aftermath.

Dolin, who has a doctorate in environmental sciences, has created a highly readable and densely fact-filled study. Most Americans remember at least one particular hurricane --- from childhood, direct experience or the memories of an earlier generation --- whether because of dreadful loss, unsettling fears or a near-miss. And through this literate survey, they can recall, re-examine and understand it in finer detail.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on August 7, 2020

A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes
by Eric Jay Dolin

  • Publication Date: August 4, 2020
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright
  • ISBN-10: 1631495275
  • ISBN-13: 9781631495274