Product has been added to the basket

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens

dykThe author combines personal histories with political and cultural assumptions and how they all contribute to the situation prior to and during the eruption and the aftermath. He researched the victims and the personalities involved, which must have involved many hours’ searching family and company histories.

The political scene is set by going back to the 19thC and in particular the origin of the Weyerhaeuser Company (about 40 pages) who ultimately owned much of the land that surrounded the volcano This is followed by a very interesting history of the birth of The Forest Service in the United States, including the complex political ramifications and all its complexities that ultimately led to the Weyerhaeuser Company controlling much of the forest around the volcano and its access in the weeks before the eruption.

The political atmosphere prevails throughout the book where figures such as Dixie Lee Ray, Governor of Washington State and President Jimmy Carter all come in for criticism as the finger of blame is pointed by the relatives of those lost in the eruption. Politics again come to the fore after the eruption, when the formation of The Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument in 1982 gets approval after much lobbying by  conservationists.

The author has conducted an in-depth study of all 57 people who died on the morning of 18 May 1982, including the logger John Killan whose father searched for his body in the ash for years afterwards. Also the young geologist David Johnston who lost his life that morning; although perhaps strangely less is said about the aging character Harry Trueman, who refused to leave his beloved home on the mountain.

This book is a good read, especially if you are interested in US politics and the human story of the victims.  The geology is somewhat sparse and patchy, but what is there is, is accurate. It is easy to read and get into the story but is written in a colloquial manner with such phrases as ‘gotten stopped by a state trooper’ and ‘the volcano quieted’, which some may find annoying.

I wish I had read this book before I visited the volcano so that I could appreciate where many of those who perished were when at the time of the eruption. It is a fitting memorial to the USGS geologist David Johnston that the National Volcanic Monument has an interpretive centre named after him.  It is well worth a visit.

Reviewed by Richard Porter

ERUPTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS by STEVE OLSON 2015.  Published by: W W Norton and Company. New York. ISBN: 9780393242799 £17.99 E: