Review by FMN Kristina Lansing
When was the last time you read a “thumping good read” about nature? If it’s been awhile and if you’re looking for something to really sink your teeth into, do give George Stewart’s “Storm” a try. First published in 1941, this book is considered by some to be one of the first eco-novels ever written. Roughly a decade after its publication — and influenced by its publication — the National Weather Service began naming all major storms.
The protagonist in Stewart’s narrative is Maria (pronounced “Ma-rye-a”), the storm herself, “born of a dalliance between northern and southern air off the coast of Japan. After a rapid gestation, she quickly begins to grow, devouring atmosphere.” A junior meteorologist at the Weather Bureau names her, then watches as “the baby eats and sleeps and makes babbling noises. But [she] does not stay cute for long and soon grows teeth. By the time she debuts on the Pacific Coast, she has left her youth behind.”* This captivating description in the Introduction aside, the book is deeply rooted in science.
People and organizations of course figure prominently in this book, and their stories rival the tale of the storm herself. For animal lovers, even an owl, a hog, and a coyote play important roles. “Storm” is a tale of dispassionate natural forces and of cause-and-effect. It’s also a tale of efficiency, of leadership and teamwork, of bravery, and of humanity.
In writing this novel, George Stewart collaborated with at least 15 organizations, to which the book is dedicated: he became a storm chaser; he rode locomotives, flatcars, even an engine snowplow. If you decide to read this splendid book, do try to crack it open on the eve of a big, local storm. Just make sure you have extra batteries for your flashlight in case the electricity goes out! The book’s not long, just under 300 pages.
George Stewart received his PhD in English literature from Columbia in 1922 and joined the English faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1924. He was a sociologist, toponymist, and founding member of the American Name Society, and he wrote over 20 books.
“Storm;” George R. Stewart; New York Review of Books (NYRB) Classics; 2021; 304 pages. Introduction by Nathaniel Rich, p viii.