Cover image for Fire mountain : how one man survived the world's worst volcanic disaster
Fire mountain : how one man survived the world's worst volcanic disaster
Morgan, Peter, 1966-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury, [2003]

Physical Description:
244 pages : illustrations, map, portraits ; 23 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE523.P3 M67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QE523.P3 M67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



History, travel writing, and human tragedy collide in a heart-stopping work of narrative nonfiction.

On May 8th, 1902, Mont Pel#65533;e in Saint-Pierre, Martinique, erupted, killing almost 30,000 people instantly and completely destroying the city known as the Paris of the Caribbean. It was a spectacular, biblical, horrifying disaster, without a doubt the most sensational event of its time. Days later, rescue teams heard cries from the rubble and uncovered Ludger Sylbaris, a twenty-seven-year-old laborer who had spent the night of the eruption in jail for his involvement in a bar fight and turned out to be-against all odds-the only known survivor. He was soon world famous, traveling across America as part of Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth.

Using written eyewitness accounts and historical research, Peter Morgan spins this tale and more into a spellbinding narrative. Framed by Martinique's painful history, the disaster reveals layer upon layer of corruption: a French governor more concerned with public image than the safety of his fellow islanders, the moral conflict of a scientist who knew the risks but was told to keep them quiet, and the tangle of colonial attitudes that ultimately caused the death of thousands.

With deft, literary strokes, in a book rich in detail, Peter Morgan delivers all the political intrigue, drama, heroism, and villainy of the greatest suspense novel - and every word is true.

Author Notes

Peter Morgan is an award-winning journalist and playwright whose writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New Statesman. He lives in London

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In an excellent work of history and social commentary, Morgan chronicles the events leading up to and the aftermath of the devastating 1902 eruption of Mount Pel?e on the Caribbean island of Martinique, along with the life of the local city's only known survivor, a laborer named Ludger Sylbaris. The blast destroyed the city of St. Pierre and its 30,000 inhabitants in a matter of hours. Morgan, both a seasoned English journalist and a playwright, accordingly combines a nose for meticulous detail with a storytelling flair, giving his account an intense personal angle that enlivens the history. His introduction to turn-of-the-century St. Pierre is told from the point of view of a visiting photographer, and it is replete with the crisp images characteristic of Morgan's style: "He sits under a burning blue sky, watching n?gociants dicker over quarts and kilos, eighths and sixteenths. He is fascinated by a sack of raw sugar, sweating syrup from every pore.... There is a constant reek of coal fires, of sun-roasted brick and rotten meat." Morgan has an equally good eye for the nuances of the colonial island's relationship with France, the political shortsightedness that allowed many warning signs to be ignored and the inevitable opportunists who took advantage of the situation afterward. Those include Barnum & Bailey's Circus, who hired Sylbaris and touted him as "the Most Marvelous Man in the World." The idea of him stripping off his shirt to reveal his puckered skin to onlookers at the behest of a sideshow barker is just one of the scenes that reverberate from this engrossing book. (Aug.) Forecast: There's a good chance that excitement for Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, another volcanic disaster, will translate into good sales for Fire Mountain. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Most Marvellous Man on Earthp. 1
1 Petit Parisp. 13
2 Death to the Whites!p. 37
3 La Montagnep. 57
4 On the Brink of Hellp. 87
5 Not One Alivep. 115
6 A Miraclep. 139
7 The Great Secretp. 157
8 Glowing Cloudsp. 183
9 Showtimep. 209
10 Looking for Ludgerp. 225
Notesp. 235
Acknowledgementsp. 241
List of Illustrationsp. 243