12 Books About Natural Disasters That Tell Stories Of The Lives Affected By Extreme Weather
Since long before the days of Doppler radar and cable networks dedicated entirely to the changing weather, humans have been fascinated by — and challenged with — extreme weather. Writers, artists, and makers have found inspiration in nature — the good, the not-so-good, and the downright terrifying — from the ancient sun temples that have been found everywhere from Japan to Peru, to Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden pond, to these books inspired by extreme weather. And in the wake of natural disasters like the ones we’re witnessing in the United States now, it’s critical to pay attention not only to the physical and material destruction, but especially to the stories of those who have lost and lived — the people who are actually affected by natural disasters made worse by climate change. The people affected when natural disaster preparedness isn't taken seriously by the government.
Here are 12 books inspired by extreme weather — check ‘em out, and when you’re done, if you’re feeling inspired to make a small difference, consider donating to a charity you trust or maybe an organization for Hurricane Harvey relief and an organization for Hurricane Irma relief.
'Salvage the Bones' by Jesmyn Ward
While most think immediately of New Orleans with any mention of Hurricane Katrina, the devastation wracked the entire Gulf coast from Louisiana to Florida. Author Jesmyn Ward’s 2011 National Book Award for Fiction-winning novel, Salvage the Bones, takes readers to Gulf Coast Mississippi, where a pregnant teen named Esch and her motherless siblings are waiting for the hurricane’s approach, one day at a time. Inspired by Ward’s own experience with her family waiting out the storm, Salvage the Bones looks at the racism and devastation of poverty in the rural south and the kind of endurance that is required of those who survive it.
'Katrina: After the Flood' by Gary Rivlin
New Orleans was by far the most televised city after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the coast of southeast Louisiana on August 29, 2005 — sending shock waves across the entire country and inspiring a global relief effort. Published in 2015, in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of that devastating storm, journalist Gary Rivlin revisited both the storm’s immediate and lasting effects in Katrina: After the Flood. The book takes readers through New Orleans: the flooded homes and shuttered businesses that still lay empty months and even years after the hurricane, demonstrating how New Orleans, more than any other region affected, became the unfortunate case study for how the impacts of climate change and natural disaster are addressed — or not — in the United States.
'Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change’ by Elizabeth Kolbert
Whether or not you believe climate change is directly responsible for the extreme weather the world has witnessed over the past decade-plus, it’s worth removing politics from the equation and really considering what the science says. Published in 2006, and now featuring a recently updated afterward, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert's book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, examines the complicated, misleading, and conflicting rhetoric some American political parties are still using to discuss climate change and its impacts on the planet and human life. Kolbert offers hard scientific facts about climate change and the human activities that cause it, written in clear and accessible language that even the most avid of climate change skeptics will have a difficult time arguing with.
'Five Days at Memorial' by Sheri Fink
Inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning article published in The New York Times Magazine in 2009, Five Days at Memorial is an expansion of Sheri Fink’s reportage during the five days that Hurricane Katrina trapped thousands of people in New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center without electricity or an escape route. Without a way to evacuate or care for their patients, hospital staff were in the unimaginable position of euthanizing critically ill patients with “do not resuscitate" orders. Five Days at Memorial takes readers through that story and beyond, via interviews with survivors and by exploring the legal and political ramifications of the hospital's response to the disaster.
‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, is all about the personal affects of natural disasters — in this case a drought and Dust Bowl — have on everyday Americans, and people living all over the world. Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for depicting the lives of American migrant farmers during the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joads, a family who loses their Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl and is forced to travel to California with thousands of other families looking for migrant work. This is another read that is not only an American literary classic, but also a testament to endurance and resilience of the human spirit.
'The Perfect Storm’ by Sebastian Junger
The bestselling book that inspired the unforgettable film, Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm tells the true story of the Andrea Gail — a fishing vessel manned by a crew of six, which disappeared in the middle of an epic storm off the coast of Nova Scotia on October 28, 1991. After one radio call to shore, notifying listeners of the impending storm, the ship was never heard from again; vanishing into the ocean and taking each member of its small crew with it. The Perfect Storm explores the lives of these six men before their deaths, and portrays in extensive and terrifying detail the power of nature against man.
'Storms Of My Grandchildren: The Truth About The Climate Catastrophe And Our Last Chance To Save Humanity’ by James Hansen
This book is definitely one to read if you ever find yourself doubting the role climate change not only plays in our lives today, but that it will play in the lives of future generations. James Hansen is one of the world’s leading scientists on climate change issues, and his latest book Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About The Climate Catastrophe And Our Last Chance To Save Humanity takes no time getting real about the grave environmental challenges facing our planet today — human-caused climate change, the politicians and corporations that deny it, and what the environmental changes mean not only for our own lifetimes, but in the lifetimes that come after ours. (In case you’re wondering, there’s hope. We just have to act, like, right now.)
‘The Stormchasers' by Jenna Blum
This New York Times bestselling novel, The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum, introduces readers to two siblings: Karena and Charles Jorge, and gives you a glimpse into the lives of weather-obsessed tornado chasers. Charles suffers from bipolar disorder and is fixated on Midwestern storms; Karena, his sister, spent her young life feeling responsible for his well-being. But when Charles escapes from a psychiatric hospital and is nowhere to be found, Karena knows the only way to track him down — and possibly save his life — is to follow the weather.
‘Wave’ by Sonali Deraniyagala
This utterly heartbreaking memoir takes readers across the world to witness one of the single worst natural disasters in global history. In December of 2004 a devastating tsunami wracked the coast of Sri Lanka, leaving over 36,000 people dead, including memoirist Sonali Deraniyagala’s parents, husband, and two young sons. Surviving her own personal tragedy against the backdrop of a nation facing its own worst nightmare, Deraniyagala ventures backwards through the life that she lost in Wave — telling the story of a life that was vibrant and beautiful and joyous, though forever marked by heartbreak.
'Zeitoun’ by Dave Eggers
This controversial biography by Dave Eggers tells the story of a Syrian-American father named Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who chose to stay in New Orleans through Hurricane Katrina in hopes of protecting his home and business. In the aftermath of the storm he canoed through the city’s streets, delivering supplies and helping those he could, before being arrested for looting and held in jail for a month. That, essentially, is where Eggers' story — written in partnership with his subjects themselves — ends. But that’s not where Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s off-the-page story ends. You'll have to investigate for yourself.
'When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina’ by Cynthia Hogue and Rebecca Ross
Another book that takes readers directly into the heartland devastated by Hurricane Katrina, When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina pairs poetry with photography to capture the loss, the devastation, the lasting repercussions for the communities it hit hardest, and even the hope to be found in the darkest of moments. Cynthia Hogue’s collection of poetry, with photography by Rebecca Ross, bears witness to the stories of 11 residents of Mississippi and Louisiana, exploring both their experiences during the terrifying hours of the hurricane and also what it has meant to rebuild their entire lives afterwards.
'The Hundred Year Flood' by Matthew Salesses
In The Hundred Year Flood by Matthew Salesses, the terrorist attacks of September 11 collide with an impending natural disaster in Prague, as Tee, a Korean-American living in Europe, tries to make sense of the loss in his life and the once-every-100-years flood that threatens to surround him. Against the backdrop of natural disaster, The Hundred Year Flood explores race and identity, family and friendships, love and loss, and what it means to finally grow up.