Classic review: The Perfect Storm
Sebastian Junger's nonfiction account of the lives and deaths of the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail serves as an homage to the awesome power of weather.
[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on July 8, 1997.] Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm is both a meditation on, and an exciting account of, weather gone awry. He integrates meteorological observations into accounts of the lives and deaths of the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail.Skip to next paragraph
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This perfect storm was in fact a once-in-a-century phenomenon in which major weather systems converged into one awesome storm. In Junger's hands it serves as title and metaphor.
In late October 1991 three major storms - one off Sable Island near Halifax, the remnants of hurricane Grace coming in from the south, and a strong, high-drifting storm from Canada - freakishly intersected. The Andrea Gail, a 72-foot steel swordfishing boat found itself at the center of a fury in which the hurricane and the Canadian high "function like huge gears that catch the storm between their teeth and extrude it westward."
Junger explains how Bob Case, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boston, coined the phrase in the book's title. Retrograde by definition, the term assimilates the horror and the energy that a weather devotee, professional or amateur, experiences when tracking a deadly storm.
"Meteorologists see perfection in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. ... thought Case, this is the perfect storm."
The term also reflects the impeccable research that supports this solid account. Junger expertly braids together the individual histories of the six-member crew of the doomed Andrea Gail with those of the economically depressed fishing town of Gloucester, Mass., and various New England fisheries.
In lesser hands this amount of detail could sink a narrative. But here it comes together as a seamless chronicle in which weather itself emerges as the protagonist.
Junger relates facts on everything from the physics of waves to the science of hurricanes.