Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hypothermia is Intriguing, Meteorology is Not.

In three minutes the front subtracted 18 degrees [Fahrenheit] from the air's temperature.   Before midnight, windchills were down to 40 below zero.  That's when the killing happened.

The Children's Blizzard is the foreboding title that came to rest upon the blizzard that raged through the American Dakotas on the evening of January 12, 1888.  The next morning, Friday the 13th as luck would have it, brought terrible news to many families.  Scores of children across the prairies had not been able to make it home from school, nor to safety anywhere.  The storm had caught them unaware and unprepared.

This book was a fascinating look into harsh pioneer winters.  From the background on why immigration was so high (hello, propoganda) to the living conditions and weather conditions, Laskin provides a clear look at the 1880s prairie.  As somehow who grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, and finding The Long Winter (1881) so very, very long, I enjoyed the trip back to those days, gaining a deeper and more thorough appreciation for the trials they faced.

History is not the only topic discussed,  meteorology and hypothermia are also addressed.  My eyes glazed over during the chapters about barometers, isobars, cyclostyles, and whaaa????  {blink}  But I found the stages of hypothermia quite interesting—how the body fights for life without one's conscious thought or effort is fascinating to me.

Of course, this book is full of sad stories...but I think the title is enough to make you expect that.  Any time innocent people die it is a tragedy.  But topic aside, I did have a few issues with the construction of the book.  The writing is inconsistent:  at times poignant, at others overly complicated or vague.  Also, organization—vital in nonfiction—was not strong.  There were in-depth portions about people or things that mattered little, and fascinating points only touched upon, which resulted in an unbalanced feel.  The good news is that the 270-odd pages go by pretty quickly, even if you do read the boring parts.  If you have a passing fancy in immigrant or prairie life, this book is worth a passing glance.

9 comments:

  1. Oh my gracious...I've never heard of this event before now :( I'm intrigued but not sure whether or not I should tackle it. Children dying is absolutely the worst.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Completely agree. There were a couple of times that I needed to pause and take a breath. The author did a good job at refraining from too many gory details, but still super sad.

      Delete
  2. I read this several years ago and now talk about "The Children's Blizzard" when I teach the Great Plains. I thought it was a great book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely great to discover something about American history that deserves remembering. Makes my heart break for those pioneers.

      Delete
  3. I read this book several years ago at the recommendation of my sister. It was a revelation. Your review reminded me how much I enjoyed the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely worth a spot on the shelf, I think. I love finding interesting nonfiction.

      Delete
  4. You read some nonfiction. :) You've been talking about that! This one seems short enough, so that you wouldn't get too bogged down. (Not like me with those blasted 800 page nonfiction selections.) It seems like a very interesting subject, although sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I've discovered that it helps me tremendously to keep a pencil handy when reading nonfiction--underlining and marginalizing are fabulous at keeping me progressing, digesting, and remembering. And the shorter size of course. :)

      Delete
  5. I had never heard of this blizzard, but it seems like a cold, more deadly Dust Bowl. Not sure I could cope with so much pain and such a historically accurate story.

    ReplyDelete

I'd love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment!

There was an error in this gadget