David Laskin, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (307p) ISBN 978-0-06-052075-5

In 1888, a sudden, violent blizzard swept across the American plains, killing hundreds of people, many of them children on their way home from school. As Laskin (Partisans ) writes in this gripping chronicle of meteorological chance and human folly and error, the School Children's Blizzard, as it came to be known, was "a clean, fine blade through the history of the prairie," a turning point in the minds of the most steadfast settlers: by the turn of the 20th century, 60% of pioneer families had left the plains. Laskin shows how portions of Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas, heavily promoted by railroads and speculators, represented "land, freedom, hope" for thousands of impoverished European immigrants—particularly Germans and Scandinavians—who instead found an unpredictable, sometimes brutal environment, a "land they loved but didn't really understand." Their stories of bitter struggle in the blizzard, which Laskin relates via survivors' accounts and a novelistic imagination, are consistently affecting. And Laskin's careful consideration of the inefficiencies of the army's inexpert weather service and his chronicle of the storm's aftermath in the papers (differences in death counts provoked a national "unseemly brawl") add to this rewarding read. Agent, Jill Kneerim. (Nov.)

Forecast: Praise from Erik Larson and Ivan Doig, a nod from the B&N Discover program, and book club attention (it's an alternate for BOMC, Literary Guild and the History Book Club) should help this title stand out.

Reviewed on: 10/25/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 336 pages - 978-0-06-143866-0
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-0-06-052076-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-5159-0694-0
MP3 CD - 978-1-5159-5694-5
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