Disasters and Tragic Events: An Encyclopedia of Catastrophes in American History

By Bemis, Michael F. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Disasters and Tragic Events: An Encyclopedia of Catastrophes in American History


Bemis, Michael F., Reference & User Services Quarterly


Disasters and Tragic Events: An Encyclopedia of Catastrophes in American History. Ed. by Mitchell Newton-Matza. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014. 2 vols. acid free $189 (ISBN: 978-1-61069-165-9). E-book available (978-1-61069-166-6), call for pricing.

As this double volume set clearly shows, American history is much more than Presidential elections, momentous discoveries, and incredible inventions. It's also about ships sinking, epidemics, riots, and the ravages of Mother Nature. While unpleasant to contemplate, these are part of the life story of the United States; there are also lessons to be learned from the mistakes our forefathers made in reacting to these events.

Editor Newton-Matza (Ph.D., The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC) and his crew of contributors have done a commendable job in outlining some of the more notable grief-stricken occurrences of our national past. There were plenty more they could have chosen from, a fact he plainly points out in his preface in which he states that "as with the creation of any list, decisions had to be made with certain criteria ... the attempt here is to examine a wide variety of events and understand why we still remember them" (xiv). Therefore, the researcher may find entries regarding a cross-section of both man-made debacles ("1692 Salem Witch Trials," "1871 Great Chicago Fire," "1929 Great Depression Begins") and natural phenomena ("1811-1812 New Madrid, Missouri Earthquakes," "1927 Mississippi River Flood"). As these representative articles suggest, the arrangement is chronological. A "List of Entries" appears in both volumes for easy browsing, while an ample index will assist those who know the name of a particular event, such as the Hindenburg airship explosion but not the year or place it occurred (in this case, 1937, at Lakehurst, New Jersey). …

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