A magnificently reported account of life in a broken, waterlogged city.
“Rivlin is a sharp observer and a dogged reporter. He is unerringly compassionate toward his subjects…But Rivlin’s most valuable journalistic skill is his acute sensitivity to absurdity…a valuable book.”
– Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times Book Review
“Former NY Times reporter Rivlin delivers a magnificently reported account of life in a broken, waterlogged city…exquisitely detailed narrative…deeply engrossing, well-written, and packed with revealing stories.”
– Kirkus (starred review)
A lean, taut narrative…[a] vital, comprehensive account of Hurricane Katrina’s long-term impact on the city of New Orleans comes across less as a 10-year-anniversary marker of an indelible calamity and more as an up-to-the-minute microcosm of our larger society.”
“A deeply-reported, character-driven procedural, not unlike the classics of its kind, such as And the Band Played On or The Warmth of Other Suns.”
“A skillful storyteller, Rivlin delivers a fascinating report on a city transformed by tragedy.”
“A sprawling, epic tale …an insightful, accessible saga that… skillfully balances out the human elements with concrete details of the devastation and the reconstruction that has followed.”
“A carefully researched, beautifully written book.”
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana—on August 29, 2005—journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting affects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure—but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.
Much of New Orleans still sat under water the first time Gary Rivlin glimpsed the city after Hurricane Katrina. Then a staff reporter for The New York Times, he was heading into the city to survey the damage. The Interstate was eerily empty. Soldiers in uniform and armed with assault rifles stopped him. Water reached the eaves of houses for as far as the eye could see.
Four out of every five houses—eighty percent of the city’s housing stock—had been flooded. Around that same proportion of schools and businesses were wrecked. The weight of all that water on the streets cracked gas and water and sewer pipes all around town and the deluge had drowned almost every power substation and rendered unusable most of the city’s water and sewer system.
People living in flooded areas of the city could not be expected to pay their property taxes for the foreseeable future. Nor would all those boarded-up businesses—21,000 of the city’s 22,000 businesses were still shuttered six months after the storm—be contributing their share of sales taxes and other fees to the city’s coffers. Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce—precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. Meanwhile, cynics both in and out of the Beltway were questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to rebuild a city that sat mostly below sea level. How could the city possibly come back?
This book traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes—politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white—as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that’s the soul of this nation.
“Along with the hurricane came a category-5 tsunami of racism, operating at every level from armed encounters in the streets to serene indifference in the White House. Gary Rivlin, one of our finest journalists, chronicles it all in superb and riveting detail.”
– Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel And Dimed
“Provocative and beautifully rendered…vividly told and haunting, Katrina is vital, not only for understanding New Orleans, and what happened there over the last ten years, but for understanding how divisions of race and class are perpetuated across America today.”
– Michael Eric Dyson, author of Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster
“I thought I knew what happened after Katrina but totally didn’t. I love this book.”
– Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
“A helluva a book that should arouse every American to demand reform before disasters strike their communities.”
– David Cay Johnston, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, author of Divided and Perfectly Legal
“Important as a case study of both how not to handle a disaster and how to survive one. There are real lessons here.”
– John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza