Monday, October 15, 2007

The Great Deluge

Hurricane Katrina had such a large impact on New Orleans that I knew I would have to learn more about this tragedy if I wanted to better understand my new home. Even today, two years later, it seems every local has their "Katrina" story. Many talk about how they lived out of the city for a couple of years, or how their house was looted, or even how their family members died. These personal dramas form the narrative of one of our nation's worst natural disasters ever.

Author Douglas Brinkley is a professor at Tulane University and an accomplished historian. Among the many Katrina books, I decided his would be the best. After reading the book, I am not sure. Perhaps because he lives in New Orleans, Brinkley was unable to maintain a professional distance from the event. Instead, his personal anger and bias pervades the text. We get it: you hate Mayor Nagin and FEMA. The local and national leadership is portrayed as vain, cowardly, and incompetent. In contrast, the "everyday man" in New Orleans is given hundreds of pages of adulation and credit. And, while the text does demonstrate the errors of government crisis management, the truth is never so black and white.

I had a consistent feeling that Brinkley's caricatures of those in leadership didn't accurately portray the unbelievably difficult position they were in, and the effort they surely put forth. Likewise, while there were undoubtedly everyman heroes, there were also members of the populace who reacted to the disaster with opportunistic crime that seriously hindered the rescue efforts. Overall, the book had a memoir feel that focused more on story-telling than providing a traditionally historic insight into the hurricane.

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