Douglas Brinkley: NYT praises his new book on Katrina

Historians in the News

The historian Douglas Brinkley's harrowing new book, "The Great Deluge," captures the human toll of Katrina as graphically as the most vivid newspaper and television accounts did, and by pulling together a huge, choral portrait of what happened during that first week of havoc and distress (from Saturday, Aug. 27, through Saturday, Sept. 3), he gives the reader a richly detailed timeline of disaster — a timeline in which the sheer cumulative power of details impresses upon us, again, just how abysmally inept relief efforts were on every level, from FEMA to the Red Cross to the New Orleans Police Department, from the federal government to state and local authorities.

By moving back and forth between panoramic views and up-close zoom shots of individuals, Mr. Brinkley is able to convey both the larger arc of the tragedy that engulfed the Gulf Coast and the intimate fallout that that catastrophe had on the lives of ordinary people — many of them black and most of them poor and lacking the resources to evacuate on their own.

Published less than a year after Katrina's rampage, "The Great Deluge" remains heavily indebted to newspaper, magazine and television reporting, most especially to articles that appeared in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. And in writing a "fast out of the gates" book, Mr. Brinkley focuses his energies on providing a you-are-there sort of narrative. He does not try to address questions about the future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the costs of rebuilding, environmental issues or the need to implement better methods of flood control, much less the broader sort of questions about long-term political, social and economic fallout that "Rising Tide," John M. Barry's extraordinary account of the great Mississippi flood of 1927, examined so brilliantly from a vantage point many decades removed.

Read entire article at Michiko Kakutani in the NYT

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