Book Review: Eruption by Steve Olson

Title: Eruption

Author: Steve Olson

Blurb: For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings from Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington State. Still, no one was prepared when a cataclysmic eruption blew the top off of the mountain, laying waste to hundreds of square miles of land and killing fifty-seven people. Steve Olson interweaves vivid personal stories with the history, science, and economic forces that influenced the fates and futures of those around the volcano. Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative of an event that changed the course of volcanic science, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.

My Thoughts

A while ago, I watched a documentary about the eruption of Mount St. Helens, but being that I’m a huge book nerd, I just had to read the narrative version of the story at some point. So I recently picked up a used hardcover edition of Eruption and got to reading. And I did in fact learn a bit more about the event than I did watching the documentary.

Eruption covers all the key perspectives leading up to the fateful 1980 eruption, including: 1) the puzzlement of the geologists, who were unfamiliar with the way that the volcano was acting because there was a dearth of understanding about the behavior of Cascade volcanoes at the time, 2) the environmentalists who were working to save the land around St. Helens from logging interests, 3) the aforementioned logging interests, primarily those of Weyerhaeuser, who owned much of the forested land around the volcano, 4) the politicians who were influenced by those logging interests, and 5) the regular folk who just wanted to go on camping vacations in a pretty location.

The book expertly explains how the competing forces behind each of these perspectives led to the exact conditions that were present the day of the eruption—i.e. how all the people who died or nearly died that day came to be where they were at the time of the eruption. The explanations are organized into a satisfying narrative that manages to combine a detailed history of the logging industry and its political influence with the heart-wrenching consequences of the eruption in a balanced manner.

I had no significant issues while reading the book, and if I had to list one weakness, it’s that I think the book spent a little too long describing the history of the Weyerhaeuser family. I think that one section of the book could’ve been shortened without sacrificing any of the details important to the story. But other than that, the book kept me engrossed from beginning to end and imparted a lot of facts I didn’t previously know.

Overall, I thought this book was excellent. If you want to learn about the eruption of Mount St. Helens, then this book is a great place to start!

Rating: 4/5

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