A Hero on Mount St. Helens

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

A very interesting read! I did not know much about Mount St. Helens except it erupted and some people were killed. Nature and people are complex and amazing and I enjoyed this book.
Was this review helpful?
May 18, 1980
“Vancouver, Vancouver, This is it.” 

Being from the Pacific Northwest and loving our mountains I understand David Johnson’s draw to Mt. St. Helens. It was amazingly beautiful mountain, it still is but in a very different way. I have climbed St. Helens twice now, once before reading this book and once after.  I took a few extra moments the second trip up just for David. I was young when St. Helens blow but grow up learning about it and remember hearing David’s warning to Vancouver. 

It was a wonderful tribute to a man who died doing what he loved. If you are from the PNW (or really anywhere) you should pick up this book and learn more about this wonderful young man. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley & University of Illinois Press in exchange for an honest review. This review is my own opinion and not a paid review.
Was this review helpful?
I have always been fascinated by volcanoes, but didn't know much about the Mount St Helens eruption so when I saw this book I had to read it.  It is the story of David Johnston, who was part of the team involved in warning of the impending eruption, thereby saving thousands of lives.  This fascinating story, part science, part biography, sheds light on what happened in May 1980, and the volcanologist who, along with many of his team, lost his life while saving so many others.

I liked that this book is so accessible, the science part is written in a way that is easy to understand, as well as fascinating.  It is detailed and absolutely meticulously researched, and for someone fascinated with volcanoes, absolutely engrossing.  The timeline counting down to the eruption is really suspenseful, even though we of course now know what happens.  The many photos included make this a very intimate account, and also set the scene for what happened that day in May.  The photos of the eruption are incredible, and those of David and the other scientists who lost their lives on My St Helens really evocative.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.

I received an eArc from the publisher via Netgalley, but this review is entirely unbiased and the words are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Full review forthcoming...................................................................................................................................
Was this review helpful?
A well-written and well-researched biography of volcanologist David Johnston combined with a detailed account of the eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980. Johnston lost his life in the eruption and the book is in many ways a tribute to him. The actual eruption is chronicled minute by minute, making for some very tense reading indeed, and certainly giving insight into what actually happens at such events. Interesting, informative, and inevitably moving at times, it’s a compelling read, and one which I very much enjoyed.
Was this review helpful?
The eruption of Mount St. Helens happened before I was ever born. I can’t remember when I learned about what happened. I just remembering learning bits and pieces of the truth as time went by. I’ve watched a documentary or two about what happened but this was the first book I ever read about the events. I was drawn to this book because it focused on the life of David A. Johnston, a geologist that lost his life when Mount St. Helens erupted, calling out from the mountain moments before he died “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

	This book focuses on the man and the volcano. Starting from his childhood in Oak Lawn to his untimely death, readers learn of the man who found joy in his research and sent others to safety while he stayed on the mountain. We also learn some of the science behind the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the aftermath of that eruption. I enjoyed this book. I thought it did a good job tracing Johnston’s life and highlighting his budding career. It’s an intimate portrait of one of the many people that lost their lives on May 18, 1980.
Was this review helpful?
Born and raised in Oregon, of course I know of St. Helens and the eruption. I'd even heard of the hero on the mountain and some of the things he'd done. But, all the stories and information I'd read before never came close to the information and detail here. It was fascinating to not only know more about the eruption, the science and people behind, but also about Washington and some of the history there. I loved Dave's passion but also his dedication. This is a dense but interesting story and I'm glad I read it.
Was this review helpful?
A Close Look at the 1980 Blast and a Life Lost
It has been 39 years since Mount St. Helen's blew it's top. It is burned into my brain as much as the first man on the moon, the Challenger disaster or the assassinations of Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers. We were in the ash fallout zone and I was obsessed with finding out all available information about it. David Johnston's death has always made him a hero in my heart.  The part of the biography that discusses his early years is filled with psychological pap that is theory and not fact since the author is not a psychologist nor did David see a psychologist for any issues. The book re-tells the story of the Mount St. Helen's blast and adds some new (to me) information. I received this book for free from Net Galley and this is my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Today, May 18, 2019 is the 39th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington. It is also the anniversary of the day David Johnston, a United States Geological Survey (USGS) volcanologist died doing his job. Johnston was the only USGS worker that died that day and since that time there have been many memorials dedicated in his name. 

Today is also the publication day of this book, written to honor David Johnston's life. While the book is primarily a biography it also explains what was known about how volcanos act, or what was known at the time in early 1980. There is more scientific knowledge and understanding today than back then, and much of the information came from that eruption. 

For some people volcanos have some type of lure, people are curious, interested, and when Mount St. Helens started waking up people flocked to the area, tourists. It was difficult for the geologists and authorities to accurately maintain a safety zone and keep people away because so much was unknown. Today we do know more, but volcanos are still very dangerous, and can at times be unpredictable. Johnston knew there was danger, but it was also exciting to be there and learning more. No one knew exactly when the volcano would explode and it was just coincidence that Johnston was manning the post (an observation and monitoring station named Coldwater II) that morning when it happen. No one knew how extensive the explosion and would end up being. It's believed 57 people died in that blast and it could have been worse without people like Johnston warning of the extreme danger. 

I visited the Mount St. Helens area briefly in 1993 and was amazed how visible the destruction still was from that volcano blast. It appeared to have exploded more recent than the decade plus years. I remember being there too late to go into the visitor's area, and as we were just passing through the area, there wasn't time to go in the next day. I've meant to return someday, and when I do I can certainly appreciate the full story of what happened in 1980 having now read this book.

I appreciate having an advance review copy to read, and the copy I read certainly read like it wasn't completely done. Portions of the book were in different colors, which I have no idea what that meant, and there were large sections that read like a draft copy. The later part of the book the writing improved and seemed to be finished. There were some beautiful sentences and sentiments. It's hard to judge a book fully when reading one that still needed some work, but giving the benefit of doubt, I expect the completed book will be in better shape. 

In the end this is a great tribute to David Johnston and his family, as an official record of his full life with scientific achievements and legacy.
Was this review helpful?
I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  			
From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.			
Serendipity placed David Johnston on Mount St. Helens when the volcano rumbled to life in March 1980. Throughout that ominous spring, Johnston was part of a team that conducted scientific research that underpinned warnings about the mountain. Those warnings saved thousands of lives when the most devastating eruption in U.S. history blew apart Mount St. Helens but killed Johnston on the ridge that now bears his name. 

Melanie Holmes tells the story of Johnston's journey from a nature-loving Boy Scout to a committed geologist. Blending science with personal detail, Holmes follows Johnston through encounters with Aleutian volcanoes, his work helping the Portuguese government assess the geothermal power of the Azores, and his dream job as a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. 

Interviews and personal writings reveal what a friend called "the most unjaded person I ever met," an imperfect but kind, intelligent young scientist passionately in love with his life and work and determined to make a difference.

Having been completely enthralled by the 20/20 show on David Johnston I was delighted to be able to read more about him --- if Tiger Woods can get a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Johnston should get one...he saved thousands of people, didn't cheat on his wife and drive drunk.  😂   His story is well written and meticulously researched - I don't really always understand science, per se, but this book is readable by STEAMers from middle school on up. Such an enjoyable book!

As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I love emojis (outside of their incessant use by Millennials on Instagram and Twitter) so let's give it some Washington Apples ... 🍎🍎🍎🍎🍎		
NOTE: I cannot link this review to LinkedIn - there is something wrong with the linking/programming and it will not happen.
Was this review helpful?
Anyone who has any real interest in volcanoes will know of the cataclysmic eruption of Mt St Helens in 1980. I have a bit more than a passing knowledge as my academic background is one of Earth science, so Melanie Holmes’ A Hero on Mt St Helens is a book that immediately resonated with me. 

It’s a biography of David Johnston, a volcanologist with the United States Geological Survey, who happened to be on duty on a ridge overlooking the volcano when it erupted, killing not only Johnston but but fifty-odd other individuals unfortunate enough to be within the danger area (which turned out to be far beyond that which the USGS had forecast). 

The book is a biography of Johnston, calling on memories of his friends, writings from his diaries and so on, and in a way it’s a strange book. Johnston, risking his life to monitor the volcano was a hero by chance. A day later, even a few hours later, and someone else would have been in his place. Then I might well be reviewing a biography of someone else entirely. 

On that basis you can argue that Johnston wasn’t heroic, but in a way he is Everyman. He represents all of those who take on such a dangerous task to protect us from potential natural hazards, and although much of his life is unremarkable it’s the very ordinariness of his background that helps to show how easily, and by chance, ordinary, dedicated scientists can become heroes.  

In addition to to the minutiae (I would even say trivia) of Johnston’s life, the book contains a wealth of information about Mt St Helens and other volcanoes, about volcanic hazards and the personal stories of other volcanologists. 

Because I’ve studied something of the discipline and keep myself up to date on what’s going on in the field, much of this wasn’t new to me. But for anyone who is interested but doesn’t know much about the topic, the story of David Johnston, an accidental hero, is fascinating, informative and in the end, useful. I thoroughly recommend it. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the University of Illinois Press for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
A very good account of the events at Mount St. Helens, Washington at and around the time of it blowing up back in mid-May 1980. But more than that it tells about a volcanologist who lost his life while doing his job. Much of what was learned by him and others after the event helped a great deal since then in the amount of knowledge going forward. The team of scientists that were conducting scientific research at the closest camp to the volcano, Coldwater II, were sent back to Vancouver for the night, while David remained behind. He was serving watch in his assistant’s place, sending him away after 2 weeks of his being on site. David was scheduled to be relieved the next morning. He got up at dawn and radioed into Vancouver just before 7 a.m. on the 18th with the results of three laser measurements he’d taken earlier. He reported the weather as very nice, perfectly clear, temperature about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (ten degrees Celcius). At 8:32 a.m. (PDT), a 5.1 magnitude earthquake caused the bulge on the north face of the mountain to give way and the largest landslide in recorded history sped down its flank. Just before it hit, David managed one final radio message, “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” He was 30 years and 5 months old, to the day.

This wasn’t an excessively long story, it was just about right, giving background on David and his family as he grew up in Illinois. Very well written as it blends in facts about a deadly tornado early in Dave’s life...shaping him and leaning him toward a career in photojournalism. Then he got to college, with the Vietnam war going on and two of his early school buddies already on their way there. Dave took a geology class almost randomly and it changed his entire future when he found he was crazy about it and eventually changed his major. This ended up adding four more years to his college years, making a total of eleven. Partway through, this book became emotional for me as often happens. But it’s a really good story for those who enjoy science type memoirs. My parents traveled out west sometime after this event happened, and brought me back some of the ash. They went to where the lake used to be and talked about an abandoned truck that was still around somewhere. You could tell it had really made an impression on them, seeing the after effects. I highly recommend this book for those that have any interest. My thanks for the advance electronic copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Melanie Holmes, and the publisher for my fair review.
Was this review helpful?
This book was very informative and felt almost reverential towards those that perished in the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

I was just a child when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. But I grew up watching the memorials, ceremonies, documentaries and hearing the stories of ash falling around the globe. I only had one image in my mind of David Johnston, that of him sitting on the ridge in a chair with his feet propped up smiling with a journal in his lap. This book delves into who he was as a person, what drove him, made him who he was and gives you a more complete picture of him as a person instead of what happened to him to make him famous. This book also pays tribute to others that died that day doing what they loved or enjoying life in areas they thought they were safe in never knowing what fate had in store for them early that fateful morning.
Was this review helpful?
Part scientific history, part family story, the life and death of David Johnston is part of the larger saga of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Scientist Johnston died on the mountain after warning the world of the coming eruption. A sad and captivating true story.
Was this review helpful?
I picked this book up primarily because I remember my sixth-grade social studies teacher teaching us about the time when she was trapped as a tiny child on Mt. St. Helens in 1980. I can't seem to find details around it, and her married name is of course different from her maiden name. But it's an interesting peek into everything surrounding the 1980 eruption. Definitely an interesting look into some of the decisions made.
Was this review helpful?
This book was incredibly interesting reading, even though I wondered where we were going with the family history details in Chapter 2. The book quickly answered my question as it delved deep into David Johnston's personal history and contributions to global geothermal and volcanology knowledge. It also explored our geologic understanding of volcanoes, placing the St. Helens eruption in context with regard to both time and location around the globe. The writing is very descriptive, reminded me of my very brief time in the area, and inspires me to go back. The book has several endearing photos, but would also benefit from maps of volcanoes mentioned and the St. Helens area in particular -- but maybe that is just missing in the kindle ARC version. Ms. Holmes' work paints a personal picture of a natural tragedy that pushed our scientific knowledge forward by leaps and bounds. It is heartwarming that this small group of professionals used scientific discovery to help them deal with their loss of a true hero in David. Highly recommended reading -- couldn't put it down.
Was this review helpful?