Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steve Olson's "Eruption"

Steve Olson is the author of Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition, and, with Greg Graffin, Anarchy Evolution.

Olson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, which is the first page of Part 3 of the book, depicts a 31-year-old Gifford Pinchot gazing out the window of a Northern Pacific train headed from Tacoma, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. In many ways, the page poses the essential structural question at the heart of at least the first half of my book. What could a train ride by the future head of the U.S. Forest Service possibly have to do with the eruption of Mount St. Helens?

Eruption asks why 57 people were close enough to an extremely dangerous volcano to be killed when it unleashed a ferocious blast on May 18, 1980, to the north and northwest of the mountain. Some of the reasons are straightforward: people wanted to go camping on the first nice weekend of the spring, sightseers hoped to see and photograph one of the small eruptions that had been occurring for the previous two months, monitors were keeping an eye on the volcano to warn downstream communities of trouble.

But some of the reasons are rooted in history. The designated danger zone around the volcano was much too small because government officials did not want to disrupt the Weyerhaeuser Company’s logging of its property around the volcano. Instead, they drew the no-go line along the boundary between Weyerhaeuser’s land to the west and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to the east, even though that boundary passed within three miles of the volcano’s summit. Only 3 of the 57 victims were inside that line, and 2 of them had permission to be there. The only person in the danger zone illegally was the one victim people tend to remember from the eruption: 83-year-old curmudgeon Harry Truman, who refused to leave his lodge beneath the mountain’s north flank.

Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and industrialists like Frederick Weyerhaeuser helped shape many of the policies that govern land use in the western United States. Those policies were a critical factor in the deaths of the volcano’s victims. As I’ve been saying in my booktalks, the people killed by the eruption of Mount St. Helens were the victims of history – and of a danger zone that was much too close to the volcano.
Visit Steve Olson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue