Swept up in ‘The Man Who Caught the Storm’

Man Who Caught the StormI thought I was a writer until I read Brantley Hargrove.

Well, scratch that: I am a writer, but I am not Brantley Hargrove.

Pick up The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Storm Chaser Tim Samaras and you’ll know precisely what I mean.

In a book that is equal parts biography and thriller, the beloved film “Twister” rendered in beautiful language outside of Hollywood, journalist Hargrove delves into the life of Tim Samaras, a self-taught engineer who changed the course of tornado science with his brilliance, grit … and pure appreciation of twisters.

I get it. Family members relate with fondness the years in which I could recite the upcoming weather forecast for the next 10 days by heart. I once asked Santa to bring a Doppler radar for Christmas. While cousins at Grandma’s begged for Nickelodeon, I insisted on round-the-clock Weather Channel. Around age 10, I remember tracking a hurricane until I fell asleep, then waking at the crack of dawn to hurriedly check its progress near Florida. I was glued to the screen. How high was the storm surge?

In short, I’m a weather geek.

I might have pursued being a meteorologist had I not decided, sometime around middle school, that I was “terrible” at math. I wasn’t, in hindsight; it just didn’t come naturally to me, and I wasn’t used to working hard.

My own obsession with tornadoes never wavered, though. I’ve watched hours of footage of classic twisters over the Great Plains — and researched extensively the shocking F4 tornado that leveled large parts of the town next to my own in 2002. (I idolize the Capital Weather Gang. Dream job, man.)

Basically, I came to Hargrove’s The Man Who Chased the Storm already predisposed to love it. It had all the elements that would combine into a gripping, memorable page-turner that would dominate my waking hours for the days it took me to tear through it. Love it I did.

Shockingly, I wasn’t familiar with Tim Samaras before I started reading this account of his life and work; I approached with fresh eyes and was completely immersed in his world. Samaras reminds me very much of my own husband — enough that I immediately pushed my finished copy into his hands. Ham radio operator, electronics buff, brilliant with both his hands and mind … there’s much to admire about Samaras.

Tim Samaras

Though the book has no choice but to end on a sorrowful note, so much about Tim demands to be celebrated. Hargrove does a fantastic job of balancing the famous storm chaser with Tim the father, husband, colleague, and friend.

As we ride along with this crew of dedicated storm chasers, saying you “feel like you were there” through Hargrove’s incredibly well-researched book is an insult to the term. Take this, from its very opening pages:

Fog clings to the low swells of eastern-Colorado rangeland as dawn breaks. The mist walls off the far horizon, and for a few short hours the high plains feel a little more finite. The still air is cool and heavy, almost thick enough to drink. This is how these days often begin. The atmosphere is primed, the air a volatile gas. All it needs is a match. …

[Tim] is already en route to the plains from his home in suburban Denver. As the sun reaches its peak, his hail-battered Datsun pickup enters the storm chaser’s cathedral. … Once the sheltering Front Range fades from the rearview mirror, he’s naked to the lungs of the earth, in an unadorned country where the passage of miles can feel more like a few hundred yards.

I could really just quote, like, the entire book, but I want you to go read the book. It really is just that good — and quite the wild, memorable ride.

Perfect for:

  • Weather geeks who crave the data and the drama
  • Non-fiction lovers who want to learn while reading their bios
  • Readers ready to laugh, cry … and open new Google tabs to research while reading


Personal copy gifted by my sister; not sent for review.

Book review: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

My first iPod was a gift from a boyfriend enamored with technology. As Christmas approached, I started daydreaming about the fabulous present he was sure to buy me. It was our first holiday together; my expectations were high. Would it be a ruby necklace? A sparkly ring? Some awesomely unique gift tailored to my exact desires?

No. It was some little pink machine in a box.

“It’s an iPod,” explained the ex-boyfriend, a web guru and Apple devotee. I’d never even heard of one. “You can store all your music on here. It’s like a Discman, but with your entire music library. I figured you could use it while walking around campus.”

Then a college sophomore, it’s true that my daily walks were excruciating — and long. Round trip from my car to classes at the University of Maryland could take an hour or more. I’d noticed the slim white earbuds beginning to adorn classmates but hadn’t paid much attention to them. I liked technology as much as the next person, sure, but Apple wasn’t really on my radar. And neither was the iPod.

To tell you the truth, I was disappointed. I’d expected some elaborate show of affection, I guess, and this so-called “iPod” — even in pink — wasn’t really cutting it. Though my ex had even had it engraved, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It stayed in its box until he came over to help me begin loading my CDs on something called “iTunes,” and now I’m feeling quite old — I mean, think back, friends, to when these things were new. And crazy. Sort of whacky.

I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story, of course. I became obsessed with that iPod mini. Four iPods and an iPhone later, I’m surrounded by Apple products and can clearly see the revolution Steve Jobs helped to create. We’re truly a tech-obsessed world, and many of the products we now take for granted were space-age concepts just a decade ago.

Ten years. What a difference it makes.

I approached Walter Isaacson’s epic Steve Jobs, a biography of the late innovator and mastermind, with some trepidation. For starters, it’s huge. More than 600 pages. And though I was fascinated by Jobs the man and Jobs the husband and father, I was less fascinated with the complete history of a company that has changed our world — even if I completely acknowledge that revolution.

Like first receiving that iPod mini, though, I soon saw the error of my ways . . . and realized I was holding something compelling. Listening to the audio version over the course of a month, I experienced a range of emotions while learning about Jobs’ life, trials, inventions, suffering, genius and, ultimately, death. By the close of the book, I was emotionally spent.

You may already have an opinion on Jobs, whose tireless pursuit of perfection and “prickly” personality once made him few friends at work or home. Born in 1955, Jobs grew up at a very unique time in American history. Once physically filthy and prone to bouts of introspection, Jobs was definitely an odd duck — and someone who didn’t take kindly to things like bathing and footwear, apparently. But his genius was evident from the time he was a teen, and he built Apple from the ground up through sheer determination and the ability to bend others to his will.

Make no mistake: Jobs wasn’t the sweetest guy around. He could be sour, angry, off-putting and vile. He didn’t suffer fools kindly, took no prisoners and was disdainful of anyone who came across as “stupid.” His standards were exacting, his moods mercurial; as quickly as he could shift from unhappiness to pleasure, friends and colleagues would be left sorting out the demands he’d make of their time and talents.

After conducting more than 40 interviews with Jobs over the course of two years, Isaacson has created an epic masterpiece that neither downplays Jobs’ incredible accomplishments nor places him on a pedestal. After finishing Steve Jobs, I felt I was provided a very balanced perspective on what made Jobs great and what also made him undeniably, completely human. His edges were jagged. Exploring, at points, his wasted relationships with his own children, his eating disorders and illnesses and his own cold, calculating treatment of others, Isaacson has created a picture of Jobs that feels authentic.

And at the end of the day? Even after hearing about his “reality distortion field” and ability to manipulate anyone into doing his bidding, even (and especially) his own parents? I still liked the guy. I felt for him. And perhaps it’s because I’ve recently lost an uncle to cancer, but I felt physically sick as news of his cancer spread — and both angry and sad to learn how little Jobs initially fought the illness, believing he could lessen its severity through some of his whimiscal fad “diets” and other strange treatments.

Though I found myself weighed down by the sheer volume of material, occasionally skipping through an audio disc or two after Jobs left Apple and went on to head up Pixar, the story kept my attention throughout. Jobs’ adoption, relationships and family were of the most interest to me, and Isaacson did a great job balancing the more “personal” information with Jobs’ professional accomplishments. It never read like a tawdry gossip piece, and Jobs himself commented on the foolish decisions he made when young — and the regrets he had about certain aspects of life, especially how he treated his parents and abandoned his first daughter, Lisa.

Regardless of how we may perceive him, Jobs was certainly an innovator whose absence has left a tremendous void. At the end of Isaacson’s biography, which Jobs never read nor controlled, I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety that the dreams Jobs had yet to realize — the goals he’d set; the products he wanted to launch and explore — have vanished into the ether, vanished with his death. Who will next pick up the gauntlet? I wonder. Who can press on in his stead, bringing us the next concept to completely shake up our world?

Someone will, I know, but not someone like Jobs. He was certainly one of a kind.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1451648537 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonPublisher Website
Personal audio copy won from Devourer Of Books

About the narration: Actor Dylan Baker did a wonderful job reading this monumental project — and I appreciated the subtle shifts between Baker as narrator and Baker quoting Jobs. His voice was both soothing and commanding of attention, and I would definitely listen to another book narrated by him.

Booking Through Thursday: Wealth of information

booking_through_thursLet’s go Booking Through Thursday!

This week’s question: Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse — a biography has made you love an author more?

Honestly, I don’t read many biographies. It’s not that I don’t find authors interesting — I just don’t read much non-fiction. Of the author biographies I have read in my life, most have been memoirs — written by the author him- or herself. So they read like their novels to me. Philip Roth’s Patrimony was a memoir of his recollections of his father, their family and what it meant to be a son — all themes he tackles in his novels, especially American Pastoral. Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings was an interesting, sometimes heartbreaking look at her life — and made her short stories even more interesting to me.

Other biographies I’ve read? Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen, which just further fanned the flames of my JA obsession. And others for college that I can’t seem to recall now! Scary how quickly knowledge can deteroriate and crack when not accessed regularly! I do remember reading bios of Shakespeare, which certainly weren’t the most fascinating thing to tackle — but didn’t completely turn me off of his plays and poetry.

Overall, I would say that of the reading biographies has made me more interested in the writers themselves. In fact, I just might pick one up again in the near future! I made a half-hearted resolution I would try and read more non-fiction this year. It’s only February — I still might come through on that!