The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier.
January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent.
By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled.
With the storm as its dramatic, heartbreaking focal point, The Children's Blizzard captures this pivotal moment in American history by tracing the stories of five families who were forever changed that day. Drawing on family interviews and memoirs, as well as hundreds of contemporary accounts, David Laskin creates an intimate picture of the men, women, and children who made choices they would regret as long as they lived. Here too is a meticulous account of the evolution of the storm and the vain struggle of government forecasters to track its progress.
The blizzard of January 12, 1888, is still remembered on the prairie. Children fled that day while their teachers screamed into the relentless roar. Husbands staggered into the blinding wind in search of wives. Fathers collapsed while trying to drag their children to safety. In telling the story of this meteorological catastrophe, the deadliest blizzard ever to hit the prairie states, David Laskin has produced a masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland.
I started reading The Children's Blizzard out of a sense of duty to the publisher, so I could hold my head up and honestly say that I'd given it my best shot, but just like the reviewer for Entertainment Weekly, I ended up hooked by the gripping story, and read it cover to cover in one evening, despite the fact that much of this time was spent in an increasingly cold bathtub of water. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Bob Cannon, Entertainment Weekly
You'd think that 307 pages about the weather would be literary NyQuil. But this account of the 1888 blizzard that killed more than 100 children in the Great Plains reads like a thriller in which a deranged predator preys upon an unsuspecting frontier population.
In 1888, a sudden, violent blizzard swept across the American plains, killing hundreds of people, many of them children on their way home from school. As Laskin writes in this gripping chronicle of meteorological chance and human folly and error, the School Children's Blizzard, as it came to be known, was 'a clean, fine blade through the history of the prairie'.
On an unseasonably warm winter day in the Great Plains, a ferocious blizzard suddenly blew up out of nowhere, and soon 500 people (mostly children) were dead. A harrowing story from the author of Braving the Elements.
Popular historian Laskin (Partisans, 2000, etc.) gives an engrossing if speculative account of a brutal 1888 blizzard that signaled the end of optimism on the Great Plains....A suspenseful disaster narrative.
Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
...a perceptive presentation, evoking lives--many those of children--unnoticed by history but for the tragedy of this storm. Schools were in session when the tempest roared across the plain; teachers, as Laskin recounts, made varied and fateful decisions about saving their students. An adroit, sensitive drama and a skillful addition to a popular genre.
Erik Larson, author of Isaac's Storm and The Devil in the White City
Laskin captures the brutal, heartbreaking folly of this chapter in America's history.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Anonymous Good human interest, revisionist history This book is a really good read, and the human interest parts of it are exceptional. However, I take exception to the revisionist tone of the book. The author is judging the decisions of people in 1874-1888 based on modern ideas and technology.... Read More
Rated of 5
by Paula he Children's Blizzard The event behind the book is fascinating. To try to comprehend the destruction that this storm left behind is almost unbearable. The book is interesting. The style of writing is at times disjointed. I found myself tempted to skip the page after... Read More
Rated of 5
by Esther W. Gripping, haunting and heartbreaking I happened upon this book while browsing, and am really glad I decided to buy it. It's one of the best books I've ever read. The story of these families, children and adults is heartbreaking, the medical information is fascinating, and the detailed... Read More
Rated of 5
by Catherine G. Lind Children's Blizzard story After reading the book, which I did almost non stop, it was so sad and bittersweet and a real look into our history. You could see the storm in your minds eye progressing, I learned more about how weather works in the best possible way. I will not... Read More
Rated of 5
by Beverly Heartbreaking This was one of the best books I have read. A heartbreaking story of history told. I grew up in Iowa & could relate to the harsh winters in the plains. Very captivating book. A must read for people who live there.
Rated of 5
by Phyllis Sandoval A Compelling Read One of those books you don't put down once you start, Children's Blizzard captured me right away. Larkin draws you into the lives of the people forever changed in January 1888. His written account of the weather dynamics was fascinating, his view... Read More
According to David Laskin's
final chapter, 'nearly 70% of the counties in the Great Plains states have
fewer people today than they did in 1950. These days nearly one
million acres of the plains are so sparsely populated that they meet the condition
of frontier as defined by the Census Bureau in the nineteenth century....
and Indian and buffalo populations have now reached levels that the region
has not seen since the 1870s. The white farmers and townspeople who
remain would shun you for daring to say it, but in large stretches of the
prairie it's beginning to look like European agricultural settlement is a
completed chapter of history.'
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