In Storm Kings, Sandlin traces the modern effort to predict tornadoes. As he explains, many, including weather authorities in Federal Government, doubted that these storms were predictable in any sense. Furthermore, when the military started developing an actual ability to predict the storms, the information was considered classified and withheld from the public. At one point, the weather service threatened to arrest a civilian meteorologist who tried to warn his community of an oncoming storm. In many ways the hero of Sandlin’s story is Robert C. Miller, an air force meteorologist who happened to be stationed at Tinker Air Force Base outside of Oklahoma City in March of 1948. On March 20, a significant tornado hit Tinker Air Force Base, destroying millions of dollars of military material and planes. The next day, Miller along with a colleague, attempted to draw criteria that seemed to be associated with the onset of a tornado. As the day progressed, the list of criteria grew more precise. At some point during the day, Miller noted with concern that the very set of criteria he had drawn together matched the developing weather in Oklahoma. Later, Miller’s hunch led to the issuance of the very first tornado warning in American history. He was demonstrated to be a prophet when a tornado hit Tinker Air Force Base, just as he had predicted. As Sandlin makes clear, today’s storm chasers are the heirs of many who came before them, trying to understand these dangerous storms from the sky.

Excerpt:

“In fact, as Fujita’s followers and successors began to think of it, there was something fundamentally misleading about conceiving of tornadoes as distinct phenomena. They are only as aspect of the fantastically complex and violent evolving dynamics of a supercell thunderstorm. They are rarely singular. They form in clusters and waves; they breed and die off within the larger movement of a storm front like bubbles in the froth. The number of tornadoes that form of half form, the blur and merge and separate within any given storm cell, defies any exact count. The sheer chaos of a severe storm renders precision impossible.”

4. Bob Thompson, Born on a Mountaintop: On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier (Crown Trade Group).

My knowledge of Davy Crockett came, first of all, from Walt Disney. The song written for Disney’s brief television series on Crockett still reverberates in my head. As Bob Thompson explains, this is true for most living Americans, for whom Davy Crockett is a frontier superhero of sorts. That “Disneyfied” Davy Crockett bears little resemblance to the Congressman David Crockett, member of the U.S, House of Representatives, who was a major political irritant to President Andrew Jackson. Davy Crockett preferred to be called David, and, though the frontier heroism of Crockett is an established fact of history, this was not what his contemporaries imagined would be his legacy. Thompson combines history, biography, and a travelogue in one volume in Born on a Mountaintop. He retraces Crockett’s life as he retraces his travels, all the way to Crockett’s martyrdom at the Alamo — a fate he did not anticipate as he made his way to Texas.. He sets the record straight (where there is sufficient record) and separates myth from reality. In the end, readers will be even more fascinated with the real David Crockett than with his mythological image.

Excerpt:

History drives a hard and devious bargain. If you aren’t the famous one in the center of the picture, your life will likely be forgotten, no matter how interesting it is. And if you are the famous one, as Crockett was in just about everyone’s picture of the Alamo, you will never be seen clearly again.”