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The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens

Steve Olson (Author)

Overview | Formats

Survival narrative meets scientific, natural, and social history in the riveting story of a volcanic disaster.

For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, sightseers, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings in Mount St. Helens, part of the chain of western volcanoes fueled by the 700-mile-long Cascadia fault. Still, no one was prepared when an immense eruption took the top off of the mountain and laid waste to hundreds of square miles of verdant forests in southwestern Washington State. The eruption was one of the largest in human history, deposited ash in eleven U.S. states and five Canadian provinces, and caused more than one billion dollars in damage. It killed fifty-seven people, some as far as thirteen miles away from the volcano’s summit.

Shedding new light on the cataclysm, author Steve Olson interweaves the history and science behind this event with page-turning accounts of what happened to those who lived and those who died.

Powerful economic and historical forces influenced the fates of those around the volcano that sunny Sunday morning, including the construction of the nation’s railroads, the harvest of a continent’s vast forests, and the protection of America’s treasured public lands. The eruption of Mount St. Helens revealed how the past is constantly present in the lives of us all. At the same time, it transformed volcanic science, the study of environmental resilience, and, ultimately, our perceptions of what it will take to survive on an increasingly dangerous planet.

Rich with vivid personal stories of lumber tycoons, loggers, volcanologists, and conservationists, Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative built from the testimonies of those closest to the disaster, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • March 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24279-9
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 320 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverEruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens


Endorsements & Reviews

“As Steve Olson reminds us in his vividly reported new history . . . what happened on May 18, 1980, in the primordial thickets of the Pacific Northwest, was an enormous, multi-faceted event. . . This engaging book maneuvers deftly along the way toward impact.” — Mark Damsker, USA Today

“Olson intercuts stories of victims including David Johnston, the volcanologist who was monitoring the explosion, with an account of its impact on science—such as popularizing the use of lidar. With 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide, this is an urgent reminder of the need for advances in the field.” — Nature

“In Mr. Olson’s telling, [the survivors’] stories read like urgent fiction….These vignettes lend a human face to an event that has become associated largely with geology.” — Michael O'Donnell, Wall Street Journal

“In his evocative and convincing new book, author Steve Olson reveals that the eruption—the most powerful natural disaster to ever strike the US—is much more than a horror show.…He has a bigger picture in mind, one of the eruption’s role as a touchstone for an evolving society and natural world.” — Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor

“Olson brings cinematic structure to descriptions of the events surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens….[A] detailed and human-centered look at a terrible disaster.” — Publisher's Weekly

“A first-class, meticulously crafted piece of reportage that is as exciting as it is informative—and will long stand as a classic of descriptive narrative of the biggest American volcanic eruption of all our lifetimes—or so we all hope!” — Simon Winchester, author of Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded

“Olson and his truly groundbreaking Eruption join a rarefied pantheon, where readers can come to understand the most dramatic geological event of our time. This book, as welcome as it is amazing in the depth of its background and the strength of its storytelling, will stand as a stirring and stilling accomplishment.” — Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land and Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide

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