Lee Sandlin is the author of Wicked River- The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild and reviews books for The Wall Street Journal. His essay Losing the War was included in the anthology The New Kings of Nonfiction. He lives in Chicago.
Even before the horrific events in Oklahoma, Lee Sandlin's Storm Kings banished any notion I may have had that it would be a lot of fun to see a tornado up close. Mr. Sandlin knows how to tell a story, and his gripping narrative, often lyrical and often horrifying, conveys the awesome destructive power of tornadoes as well as their bewildering randomness. . . . Much of the book is devoted to biographies of the often cantankerous figures who advanced and occasionally retarded efforts to record, explain and predict tornadoes. . . . But the stars of the book are the fearsome clouds themselves. . . . Mr. Sandlin debunks many common misconceptions. Don't waste time opening windows to equalize pressure, he says, because tornadoes don't explode houses in a vacuum; the winds do the damage. Find a windowless room; bathrooms are good, since the pipes add support. There is no best corner. For emergency shelter outside, a ditch is better than a highway overpass. . . . [ Storm Kings ] reads like a police procedural, a 300-year journey of wrong turns and sometimes agonizingly slow progress toward the era of Doppler radar, the enhanced Fujita scale and the funnel chasers bouncing through Tornado Alley in gadgeted vehicles. . . . Scientists should not scoff at the absence of technical detail in Storm Kings. They are likely to learn a lot about the backgrounds and obsessions of their predecessors, who made real science in the fashion of a tornado itself: twisting and meandering, with great energy and much warm air rising. --Michael Pollack, The New York Times Thrilling. . . . Sandlin's triumph is turning a historical survey of generations of American tornado scholars, victims and obsessives into something that reads like a brisk novel. It offers an epic scope reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; vivid, eccentric characters that could inhabit a Jonathan Lethem book; rivalries as intense as anything in Dostoevsky or Archie comics; and wonders as grand as any desc