Review of F5 written by Mark Levine

Review of F5 written by Mark Levine
rating ****

This book tells the story of the devastating tornado outbreak of April 3, 1974. While the outbreak covered a large geographical area, the author focuses primarily on two of the worst hit areas: Zenia, Ohio and Limestone county, Alabama.

There are a lot of characters to follow and for the most part the author does a good job of individualizing them enough that you don’t get totally lost. The scope of the disaster simply requires that it be told from multiple perspectives. As you might expect with any good nonfiction narrative, there is plenty of background information. But unlike so many nonfiction books today, there isn’t so much that it overwhelms the story. The author explains the science of tornadoes and delves into the background of Japanese physicist Tatsuya Fujita who came up with the ubiquitous F scale for rating the intensity of tornadoes. He also does a good job of giving the story some historical context. I especially liked the story of Hank Aaron who was caught in the middle of the outbreak while he awaited the start of opening day. He went on to tie Babe Ruth’s home run record the very next day.

The real drama, though, is in the recounting of the day and night the tornadoes hit. This is where the individual stories stand out as the author jumps from one encounter to the next. Families are torn apart both literally and figuratively. Vehicles and animals fly through the air. Houses collapse upon its occupants. Some survive and some don’t. The details are carefully interwoven. In recounting the devastation brought upon Zenia, Ohio the author writes "Xenia – the name derived from the Greek term for hospitality – was on a well-established declining course when the wind came through to speed things along." Another well written passage concerns a group of people who abandon their cars to take refuge by the side of the road as a tornado approaches: "The wind passed over the ditch. Men grabbed at each other, at the grass, at clumps of dirt. Faces were driven into the mud…Gusts of water washed across the ditch. Men were scraped along the ground…The sheriff clawed at the grass as he was dragged along."

There are twelve pages of images. A map showing where the tornadoes hit is provided near the end of the book. It would have been better to provide a map of the region in the beginning of the book. I spent a good deal of time not knowing  where I was geographically. The map that is provided in the front is hard to read and too narrowly focused. I would also liked to have seen some online component with additional information and images. Other than those few gripes, I highly recommend F5.

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