The Johnstown Flood

Version: Unabridged
Author: David McCullough
Narrator: Edward Herrmann
Genres: Non-Fiction, North America, Social Science
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published In: May 2005
# of Units: 8 CDs
Length: 10 hours
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The stunning story of one of America’s great disasters, a preventable tragedy of Gilded Age America, brilliantly told by master historian David McCullough.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hardworking families striving for a piece of the nation’s burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 people. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal.

Graced by David McCullough’s remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly.

Reviews (10)

Written by Scott Eschbach on October 26th, 2016

  • Book Rating: 3/5

Overall an excellent account of the history. Sometimes gets a little too far into the weeds with to many examples of of small details.

Written by Gaynor Celotti on September 12th, 2016

  • Book Rating: 5/5

A great piece of history delivered with sensitivity. I enjoyed it.

Written by Scott Anderson on April 28th, 2016

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Fantastic Book - Was able to find out a family member was either part of the story or myth of saving lives that fateful day. Well read and written!

Johnstown Flood 1889

Written by Anonymous from Folsom, CA on May 16th, 2012

  • Book Rating: 5/5

An excellent book! Great writing and narration. From beginning to end it kept me on the edge of my seat.

Flood of words

Written by Kathy on April 10th, 2012

  • Book Rating: 3/5

I'm usually a David McCullough fan, but in the case, I thought perhaps he was trying to flood us with words as well as tell the story of the Johnstown flood. I got as far as CD 3 and gave up because of the verbosity.

Johnstown Flood

Written by Anonymous from Santa Rosa, CA on August 19th, 2009

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I knew nothing about this trajedy and this book gave all the details anyone could need to visualize and get as close as one can to understanding what went horribly wrong. A tragic tale. Well read. McCullough's great!

Biggest news story since Lincoln's assassination!

Written by Stephen Sink from Portage, IN on November 7th, 2008

  • Book Rating: 5/5

I enjoyed this story immensely. Before this book I could not have identified even the state the flood occurred in. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the dam's engineering & construction, its flaws, and the reasons it failed. The many accounts of individual survival stories were gripping. A very memorable book. Typical of the McCullough works I've read.

Human Tragedy

Written by Michael Herb on February 21st, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

Before listening to this I didn't know much about the Johnstown Flood. McCullough's research into all the events surrounding this great tragedy helped me realize how the complexities of American social life played a major role in hundreds of people losing their lives. It was more than just an unfortunate natural disaster. It symbolized differences in class and how attitudes about wealth permeated every aspect of American social life. I really enjoyed this. McCullough never disappoints.

Johnstown Flood

Written by Sarah from Palm Bay, FL on December 12th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 5/5

This was a VERY interesting story, with an excellent narrator. McCullough tells the story slowly, with many details and quotes from the time. I really enjoyed all the personal stories of people who survived the flood, or who were involved in some way. All the details and documentation left me feeling like I REALLY had heard the whole story, with nothing left out! Highly recommended!!

The 2nd great flood

Written by David Goodrich on November 27th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 5/5

A great McCullough with such interesting detail on an event that did not have to happen. It is anazing that people will not heed warning, or else think that it will not happen to me. Great book.

Author Details

Author Details

McCullough, David

David McCullough was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a student at Yale he met the author Thornton Wilder, and after considering careers in politics and in the arts, was inspired to become an author. While at Yale, he met his future wife, Rosalee Barnes, a student at Vassar.

After college McCullough moved to New York City and worked as an editorial assistant at Sports Illustrated. "Swept up by the excitement of the Kennedy era," he moved to Washington and became an editor and writer at the United States Information Agency. While in Washington, he also worked part time for American Heritage. In 1964 he became a full time editor and writer for the publisher he sometimes calls "my graduate school."

By this time David and Rosalee had married and started a family. He wrote his first book at night and on weekends while working full time. The Johnstown Flood, inspired by the great catastrophe that struck his native region in 1889, was an unexpected best-seller in 1968. Its success emboldened him to quit his job and commit to a full time writing career.

Since then he has published a series of distinguished works of history and biography, all of which have won enormous popularity with the reading public. The Great Bridge (1972) recounted the building of Brooklyn Bridge. The book has served as the basis of a memorable documentary film, which was nominated for an Academy Award. McCullough's own voice was heard as the narrator of this film, of Ken Burns's The Civil War, of The Johnstown Flood, and as host of more than one public television series, including The American Experience and Smithsonian World.

McCullough's story of the Panama Canal, The Path Between the Seas (1977) was an instant best-seller, acclaimed by the publishing industry and the historical profession. It was honored with the National Book Award for History, the Cornelius Ryan Award, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Francis Parkman Prize from the American Society of Historians. It also helped influence history, playing an important part in determining the nation's policy concerning the future of the Canal. It had a profound influence on American policy and public opinion in the late 1970s, as the country debated the future of the Canal.

In Mornings on Horseback (1981), McCullough recounted the youth of President Theodore Roosevelt. The book won McCullough a second National Book Award, this time for Biography. In the 20 years since, McCullough has taken a special interest in the lives and character of America's presidents. He was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his biography of President Truman, and he is frequently called upon to discuss the presidency in the news media.

At the time of his interview with the Academy of Achievement, David McCullough had begun work on a dual biography of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The second and third presidents were allies in the struggle for independence but became bitter rivals in the early years of the republic. After their back-to-back presidencies, they became reconciled and carried on a warm and fascinating correspondence for the rest of their lives. By an extraordinary coincidence, they died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of America's independence.

As his work on the book progressed, McCullough became increasingly intrigued with the character of John Adams. Convinced that Adams had not received his historic due, in comparison with the more celebrated Jefferson, McCullough decided to devote his entire book to Adams. The result topped the New York Times best seller list from the week it went on sale, and won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

David and Rosalee McCullough live in West Tisbury, Massachusetts. They have five children and many grandchildren. McCullough writes every day in a studio behind his house. "I would pay to do what I do," he told an interviewer. "How could I have a better time than doing what I am doing?"