Read The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley Free Online
Book Title: The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast|
The author of the book: Douglas Brinkley
ISBN 13: 9780061124235
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 946 KB
Edition: William Morrow
Date of issue: May 9th 2006
Read full description of the books The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast:I think parts of this book should be assigned to social studies students, because it so clearly shows the significance of electing competent and talented officials to the offices of government. Rarely have the costs of having the wrong people in power been so starkly illustrated: as I think we all agree, Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster, but its horrific aftermath in New Orleans was the result of mindblowing incompetence at nearly every level of government, from the city right up through the Feds. Reading the first few chapters -- definitely the best part of this overly long book -- would help students to understand the true purpose and challenges of government. Brinkley pulls no punches here, and makes clear from the outset that he's not playing the blame game; that is, it's not a game, his blaming is serious business, and Brinkley points furious accusatory fingers at nearly every official and agency charged with preventing the nightmare in post-Katrina New Orleans.
In addition to illustrating the functions and process of government, this book would also be a good thing for young people to read because it could challenge them to think about what kind of adults they want to become. I know that sounds pretty corny, but it's true. There are billions of cliches about how one's mettle is truly tested in times of great crisis, and much of what makes Katrina stories so fascinating is evidence of that point. People's behavior after the storm ranged the gamut from intense moral depravity, to pathetic blundering, to incredible heroism. While reading this book, I broke down in tears probably about twenty times, usually at some sickening travesty of government, but a few times at people's inspiring and selfless actions. Again, not to sound like an Oprah guest or anything, but reading this made me think about what kind of person I want to be, and challenged me to question whether I'll be able to rise to the occasion when certain demands are made. I think this is good stuff to think about once in awhile.
This book had a lot of information in it, and I'm impressed that Brinkley was able to collect and publish it so quickly (this came out in 2006). That said, I kind of wish I'd done some research first to look for another Katrina book I might've liked more. For one thing, this book was 624 pages long, and by the time I was done, I felt like I'd just spent five days at the Superdome, waiting for some FEMA buses that just didn't arrive. To be sure, there was a lot of reporting to do on the many shocking events that occurred, and normally I like long books, so I didn't think going in that this would be a problem.... but it kind of was. Douglas Brinkley -- and I say this with due respect, because his work is obviously an achievement, and I learned a lot from it --is no Robert Caro. That is to say, he's not, in my humble opinion, a terrific writer. Obviously he had to get this baby out as quickly as possible, so its unlovely prose can't fairly be faulted much, but it did make the reading feel pretty excruciating after awhile. For example, in describing the trauma symptoms of Mississippi Gulf Coast hurricane victims, Brinkley writes, "They were frayed zombies, Katrina survivors, in search of a hug" (p. 163).... In search of a hug? Huh? Yikes. There were many non sequiturs and somewhat bizarre comparisons and references scattered throughout. Nothing offensive, just.... not great. And for a book this long, well, it really helps if the writing's great. Maybe if I weren't also reading The Power Broker this wouldn't have bothered me so much but... well, it was long.
But yeah, again, this book is an achievement. It taught me a lot I didn't know about Katrina, and I wasn't reading it for the prose. That said, I also wasn't reading it to learn what Richard Ford, Wynton Marsalis, or Jimmy Buffett happened to think about the destruction of a city to which they had one or another personal connection. I became very frustrated by what felt like excessive anecdotes from figures only tangentially linked to the disaster, and by the folksiness Brinkley imparted to his descriptions of various involved actors. Again, though, this is all fine; what was not fine, however, was the unconscionable omission of any MAP OF NEW ORLEANS. This failure is analogous to Ray Nagin's decision to leave all the school buses parked in a flood zone, and to the city's failure to coordinate with Amtrak so that five "ghost trains" left the bowl Sunday evening, empty of people. How could Brinkley have provided such a helpful timeline of events between August 27 and September 3, but not have managed to put even ONE simple map showing the relative location of the various New Orleans neighborhoods he was discussing? That was actually my biggest problem with this book. Yeah, I know it sounds petty, and I should just be able to find a good map online, but actually, I can't. There's the Time magazine map that shows the flooding, and of course there's Google Maps, but I want one inside the book, designed to help me understand exactly what he's talking about, so I can see where the Lower Ninth Ward is, and where the 17th Street Canal was breached, and how far the Superdome is from the Convention Center, and just things like that I need to know because I, like FEMA, was totally clueless about the geography of New Orleans going into this. I kept flipping through looking for the missing map, like a stranded family on a roof searching the sky for helicopters, up until I finished the book, unable to believe that it had been left out. So thank God for the Internet, but still: a book like this should be self-contained, and it didn't make sense without a map. The pictures were great, which only made its maplessness more incomprehensible to me.
Okay, so but my tendency is to complain even more about something when I like it. I think this is a pretty good book. If it had had a map, I would've given it four stars. Every American should read at least parts of this book, or a similar one. Although I followed the print media coverage at the time, the most shocking content related here was unknown to me. As noted previously, this book made me break down in tears on the train repeatedly. Due to incompetence and an unforgivable lack of urgency and coordination, thousands of mostly poor, mostly black Americans were left to suffer, and even die, unnecessarily. Racism obviously played a large role in what happened (the story of the Gretna Bridge Incident, recounted here, is one particularly shameful episode), but it is a just one part of this gruesome story. What I did not really understand at the time is that government agencies did not only fail through their inaction, but in fact ACTIVELY exacerbated the situation through actions that actually appear malevolent and designed to do harm. Decades of poor policy and neglect made New Orleans's environment and infrastructure such that the breached levees and resulting chaos were inevitable, and nobody in power ever bothered to establish a real disaster plan. Once the hurricane came, political leaders engaged in infighting, grandstanding, and lack of resolve in their mishandling of the emergency. Pathological bureaucracy meant that first responders were forcibly turned away by agencies PURPOSELY KEEPING AID OUT of the city. When the federal government finally began to react, like a brontosaurus just noticing a blow to the tail struck three days earlier, FEMA sent firefighters to Atlanta for sexual harassment training, before they could go to New Orleans to evacuate people whose lives were in danger. Families were separated, with children and infants being taken from their mothers willy nilly, and survivors were ordered around at gunpoint by people who did not seem to be following much of a plan. Many of the frail and elderly died because some people who were supposed to be doing their jobs didn't do them; of course, many were saved because others did rise heroically to the occasion. Brinkley documents that, doing a pretty good job of walking the line between despair and hope at humanity's capacity for good and bad, which is why I think this would be a good book for high school kids. Also, it's got a lot of dead bodies and violence and looting and excitement in it, and teenagers like that kind of thing, don't they?
I wish this country'd get its act together, that's for sure. At the time that this happened, I felt like Katrina had turned over a rock and exposed the racialized poverty endemic in this often ignored America I was glad at the time was finally making the news. I remember being excited that newscasters were actually getting angry about racial and economic injustice. The real outrage, I thought, was not just the federal government's slow response to the hurricane, as it was that so many New Orleanians were unable to evacuate even if they wanted to, because they were so poor. Brinkley's perspective here was different than mine. He took a very nonpartisan, even apolitical approach that looked specifically at what went wrong in this situation, and whose responsibility the snafus were. I find it totally incomprehensible that Ray Nagin was reelected after this. My biggest impression at the end of this book was of the meaning of responsibility. Brinkley goes very hard on a lot of these officials, which I appreciated. Not only public officials, but all of us, in whatever capacity, need to perform above and beyond the call of duty at times of crisis, and the more responsibility we have, the greater our abilities must be. When high school civics students read this book, I want them to think, "Well, I thought I wanted to be mayor/governor/president, but now that I think about it, I'd probably be better suited as a soap opera star or professional soccer player." If more kids would think about what public service actually means, maybe tragedies like the aftermath of Katrina could be averted in the future.
Read information about the authorDouglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him “America’s new past master.” His most recent books are The Quiet World, The Wilderness Warrior, and The Great Deluge. Six of his books have been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He lives in Texas with his wife and three children.
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