The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
In the span of five violent hours on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed major Gulf Coast cities and flattened 150 miles of coastline. But it was only the first stage of a shocking triple tragedy. On the heels of one of the three strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States came the storm-surge flooding, which submerged a half-million homes—followed by the human tragedy of government mismanagement, which proved as cruel as the natural disaster itself.
In The Great Deluge, bestselling author Douglas Brinkley finds the true heroes of this unparalleled catastrophe, and lets the survivors tell their own stories, masterly allowing them to record the nightmare that was Katrina.
About the Author
Douglas Brinkley is professor of history at Tulane University and the author of several books, including The Unfinished Presidency, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc, and The Great Deluge. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair and an in-house historian for CBS News, he lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Great Deluge: Emotional, powerful, and comprehensive history of Hurricane Katrina and its impact.., May 13, 2006
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore into Louisiana and Mississippi much as Hurricane Andrew did to Florida over a decade earlier, wreaking devastation across the Gulf Coast. As one eyewitness is quoted, "the hurricane was like watching God and the Devil fighting…with Godzilla as referee." Aside from the massive destruction, the storm also ripped open social, economic, and political divisions nationwide and became a media spectacle impossible to forget. Tulane professor and historian Douglas Brinkley, well known for his histories Boys of Pointe Du Hoc and Tour of Duty and a native of New Orleans, delivers the first comprehensive and detailed analysis of the disaster, moving from politician to police, rescuer to rooftops.
Brinkley weaves together a gripping narrative of stories at all levels of the disaster. Analyzing the days prior to landfall, Brinkley details the multiple factors that merged together to produce the "perfect storm" that so devastated the region. The warnings from the National Hurricane Center were coming fast and furious, the danger clearly portrayed, but still people waited to leave. He faults the major political players like Mayor Ray Nagin, Governer Blanco, and Mississippi Governer Barbour for delaying mandatory evacuation orders and having no comprehensive evacuation plan in place to remove those who didn’t have transportation, mainly the poor and elderly. Nagin receives an especially critical eye, as does the the New Orleans Police Department. Leaving no stone unturned, Brinkley hits the politicians in FEMA, DHS, and in Washington for their failures to understand the seriousness of the storm’s impact and react accordingly. In doing so, Brinkley acts with the critical eye of a historian rather than of partisan politics. In this story no politician is a hero. Brinkley’s admiration is for the men and women of the Coast Guard, the NOLA homeboys, the Cajun Navy, and the other ordinary Americas who took part in the relief effort.
Having experienced the horrors of Katrina first hand in the city of New Orleans gives Brinkley’s writing a perspective unmatched by current scholarship and media. When he discusses the flood waters rising, the streets slowly sinking under a brown wave, and the misery of the people stuck in it, he is speaking from first hand experience. Brinkley was there from beginning to end, suffering through the storm with other residents, taking part in rescue efforts, and recording the stories that would make up a big part of this book. Though he does not discuss his personal experience, his perspective gives the book an instant credibility and lends weight to his analysis of what went right and what went wrong. There are moments when his survivor’s anger competes with the historian’s judgement, but that emotion gives the narrative its power.
Having been written in under a year there are sure to be elements of the story that are left untold, much to Brinkley’s regret as he notes in the introduction. In later years when more government documents are realized, and more interviews are conducted, he will hopefully release an updated edition. For now though, this is THE book of Katrina. Brinkley writes smoothly and with an elegance that moves the narrative at a fast pace. The Great Deluge is so gripping a story that it reads almost as fiction; its easy to forget that it all happened, live and in color, in front of an entire nation. Brinkley delivers an emotional and powerful story of danger, disaster, and survival that is sure to become one of the definitive works on the subject, and is a book that is important for everyone to read. Highly recommended, one of the Top 5 books of the year.
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