Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles (Paperback)

Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles By Jon Wilkman Cover Image

Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles (Paperback)

Email or call for price

Out of Print

"Floodpath attempts to rescue the disaster from obscurity . . . The author captures many heartbreaking stories of survivors . . . The effect is powerful." --The Wall Street Journal

Just before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, a twenty-story-high concrete structure just fifty miles north of Los Angeles, suddenly collapsed, releasing a devastating flood that roared fifty-four miles to the Pacific Ocean, destroying everything in its path. It was a horrific catastrophe, yet one which today is virtually forgotten.

With research gathered over more than two decades, award-winning writer and filmmaker Jon Wilkman revisits the deluge that claimed nearly five hundred lives. A key figure is William Mulholland, the self-taught engineer who created an unprecedented water system, allowing Los Angeles to become America's second largest city, and who was also responsible for the design and construction of the St. Francis Dam.

Driven by eyewitness accounts and combining urban history with a life-and-death drama and a technological detective story, Floodpath grippingly reanimates the reality behind L.A. noir fictions like the classic film Chinatown. In an era of climate change, increasing demand on water resources, and a neglected American infrastructure, the tragedy of the St. Francis Dam has never been more relevant.

Jon Wilkman is an award-winning documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles. His television series Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood was named one of the year's top ten programs by the New York Daily News and the Wall Street Journal, and nominated for three Emmy Awards, including for writing. Wilkman is also the author, with his late wife, Nancy, of two books about Los Angeles. He is currently at work on a documentary about the St. Francis Dam disaster.

"In this future classic of California historiography, veteran filmmaker and historian Jon Wilkman vividly presents the full story of the technical and human failures involved." - Kevin Starr, University of Southern California

"Jon Wilkman retells the harrowing story of the St. Francis Dam break with ardent imagination and scholarly insight. Every page is riveting. It’s impossible to understand California in the twentieth century without reading this landmark book." - Douglas Brinkley, author of THE GREAT DELUGE

"Popular knowledge of early Los Angeles’s struggle for water owes much to the film Chinatown, but [Wilkman] shows that the real story of L.A.’s water is as fascinating -- and devastating -- as the fictionalized version." - Publishers Weekly

"A riveting account . . . While the massive disaster may have been largely forgotten, its foundation in both hubris and opportunism remains relevant today." - Booklist

"A well-researched account of a little-remembered California tragedy . . . Wilkman tells the dramatic story in the context of the rapidly growing city." - Kirkus Reviews

"The St. Francis Dam collapse ranks second only to the San Francisco earthquake in the annals of California disasters, and first in the nation as a disaster of human engineering. Jon Wilkman brilliantly and dramatically captures the background and scale of the tragedy. His book is essential reading for anyone interested in the human consequences of the unrestrained quest for water and electricity in twentieth-century America." - Michael Hiltzik, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of COLOSSUS

"Wilkman demonstrates a balanced perspective on Mulholland’s lifetime of labor, acknowledging both the good and the bad that the man’s actions wrought. Moreover, the author ties the events at the St. Francis Dam to the contemporary American experience -- with a high demand for water in a severe drought, combined with the aging and failing infrastructure of dams, waterworks, and energy grids, Wilkman convincingly argues that the United States is primed for another such disaster." - Library Journal

"The St. Francis Dam failure was one of the pivotal events in U.S. history that forced policymakers to consider how public safety and environmental impacts would fit into national growth and the insatiable need for water. Mr. Wilkman reminds us in compelling detail about the importance of learning from the past." - Lori C. Spragens, Executive Director, Association of State Dam Safety Officials

"Wilkman’s fine book dramatically explores the little-known story of a major American disaster. It is a fascinating technological detective story and a compelling human drama, including the impact of a powerful engineer’s overconfidence and the loss of hundreds of innocent lives." - Mark E. Baker, P.E., Dam Safety Officer, National Park Service