The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

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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.

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About the author

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, the CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Audubon. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him “America’s new past master.” His recent Cronkite won the Sperber Prize for Best Book in Journalism and was a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. The Great Deluge won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is a member of the Society of American Historians and the Council on Foreign Relations. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three children.

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Harper Collins
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Published on
Oct 13, 2009
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History / United States / State & Local / South (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV)
Nature / Weather
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Every place has its history. But what is it about New Orleans that makes it more than just the sum of the events that have happened there? What is it about the spirit of the people who live there that could produce a music, a cuisine, an architecture, a total environment, the mere mention of which can bring a smile to the face of someone who has never even set foot there?

What is the meaning of a place like that, and what is lost if it is lost?

The winds of Hurricane Katrina, and the national disaster that followed, brought with them a moment of shared cultural awareness: Thousands were killed and many more displaced; promises were made, forgotten, and renewed; the city of New Orleans was engulfed by floodwaters of biblical proportions—all in a wrenching drama that captured international attention. Yet the passing of that moment has left too many questions.

What will become of New Orleans in the months and years to come? What of its people, who fled the city on a rising tide of panic, trading all they knew and loved for a dim hope of shelter and rest? And, ultimately, what do those people and their city mean to America and the world?

In Why New Orleans Matters, award-winning author and New Orleans resident Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and most neglected of American cities. With wisdom and affection, he explores the hidden contours of familiar traditions like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and evokes the sensory rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking. He writes, too, of the city's deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice, and of how its people endure and transcend those conditions. And, perhaps most important, he asks us all to consider the spirit of this place and all the things it has shared with the world—grace and beauty, resilience and soul. "That spirit is in terrible jeopardy right now," he writes. "If it dies, something precious and profound will go out of the world forever."

Why New Orleans Matters is a gift from one of our most talented writers to the beloved and important city he calls home—and to a nation to whom that city's survival has been entrusted.

Hurricane Katrina shredded one of the great cities of the South, and as levees failed and the federal relief effort proved lethally incompetent, a natural disaster became a man-made catastrophe. As an editor of New Orleans’ daily newspaper, the Pulitzer Prize—winning Times-Picayune, Jed Horne has had a front-row seat to the unfolding drama of the city’s collapse into chaos and its continuing struggle to survive.

As the Big One bore down, New Orleanians rich and poor, black and white, lurched from giddy revelry to mandatory evacuation. The thousands who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave initially congratulated themselves on once again riding out the storm. But then the unimaginable happened: Within a day 80 percent of the city was under water. The rising tides chased horrified men and women into snake-filled attics and onto the roofs of their houses. Heroes in swamp boats and helicopters braved wind and storm surge to bring survivors to dry ground. Mansions and shacks alike were swept away, and then a tidal wave of lawlessness inundated the Big Easy. Screams and gunshots echoed through the blacked-out Superdome. Police threw away their badges and joined in the looting. Corpses drifted in the streets for days, and buildings marinated for weeks in a witches’ brew of toxic chemicals that, when the floodwaters finally were pumped out, had turned vast reaches of the city into a ghost town.

Horne takes readers into the private worlds and inner thoughts of storm victims from all walks of life to weave a tapestry as intricate and vivid as the city itself. Politicians, thieves, nurses, urban visionaries, grieving mothers, entrepreneurs with an eye for quick profit at public expense–all of these lives collide in a chronicle that is harrowing, angry, and often slyly ironic.

Even before stranded survivors had been plucked from their roofs, government officials embarked on a vicious blame game that further snarled the relief operation and bedeviled scientists striving to understand the massive levee failures and build New Orleans a foolproof flood defense. As Horne makes clear, this shameless politicization set the tone for the ongoing reconstruction effort, which has been haunted by racial and class tensions from the start.
Katrina was a catastrophe deeply rooted in the politics and culture of the city that care forgot and of a nation that forgot to care. In Breach of Faith, Jed Horne has created a spellbinding epic of one of the worst disasters of our time.

From the Hardcover edition.
The acclaimed, award-winning historian—“America’s new past master” (Chicago Tribune)—examines the environmental legacy of FDR and the New Deal.

Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior celebrated Theodore Roosevelt’s spirit of outdoor exploration and bold vision to protect 234 million acres of wild America. Now, in Rightful Heritage, Brinkley turns his attention to the other indefatigable environmental leader—Teddy’s distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, chronicling his essential yet under-sung legacy as the founder of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and premier protector of America’s public lands. FDR built from scratch dozens of State Park systems and scenic roadways. Pristine landscapes such as the Great Smokies, the Everglades, Joshua Tree, the Olympics, Big Bend, Channel Islands, Mammoth Cave, and the slickrock wilderness of Utah were forever saved by his leadership.

Brinkley traces FDR’s love for the natural world from his youth exploring the Hudson River Valley and bird watching. As America’s president from 1933 to 1945, Roosevelt—consummate political strategist—established hundreds of federal migratory bird refuges and spearheaded the modern endangered species movement. He brilliantly positioned his conservation goals as economic policy to combat the severe unemployment of the Great Depression. During its nine-year existence, the CCC put nearly three million young men to work on conservation projects—including building trails in the national parks, pollution control, land restoration to combat the Dust Bowl, and planting over two billion trees.

Rightful Heritage is an epic chronicle that is both an irresistible portrait of FDR’s unrivaled passion and drive, and an indispensable analysis that skillfully illuminates the tension between business and nature—exploiting our natural resources and conserving them. Within the narrative are brilliant capsule biographies of such environmental warriors as Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, and Rosalie Edge. Rightful Heritage is essential reading for everyone seeking to preserve our treasured landscapes as an American birthright.

"Father McGivney's vision remains as relevant as ever in the changed circumstances of today's church and society."—Pope John Paul II

Is now the time for an American parish priest to be declared a Catholic saint?

In Father Michael McGivney (1852-1890), born and raised in a Connecticut factory town, the modern era's ideal of the priesthood hit its zenith. The son of Irish immigrants, he was a man to whom "family values" represented more than mere rhetoric. And he left a legacy of hope still celebrated around the world.

In the late 1800s, discrimination against American Catholics was widespread. Many Catholics struggled to find work and ended up in infernolike mills. An injury or the death of the wage earner would leave a family penniless. The grim threat of chronic homelessness and even starvation could fast become realities. Called to action in 1882 by his sympathy for these suffering people, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, an organization that has helped to save countless families from the indignity of destitution. From its uncertain beginnings, when Father McGivney was the only person willing to work toward its success, it has grown to an international membership of 1.7 million men.

At heart, though, Father McGivney was never anything more than an American parish priest, and nothing less than that, either—beloved by children, trusted by young adults, and regarded as a "positive saint" by the elderly in his New Haven parish.

In an incredible work of academic research, Douglas Brinkley (The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc, Tour of Duty) and Julie M. Fenster (Race of the Century, Ether Day) re-create the life of Father McGivney, a fiercely dynamic yet tenderhearted man. Though he was only thirty-eight when he died, Father McGivney has never been forgotten. He remains a true "people's priest," a genuinely holy man—and perhaps the most beloved parish priest in U.S. history. Moving and inspirational, Parish Priest chronicles the process of canonization that may well make Father McGivney the first American-born parish priest to be declared a saint by the Vatican.

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