With the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina coming up this week, four new or upcoming books examine the toll of that storm and others.
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (Viking) by Rebecca Solnit examines human behavior in the aftermath of five major disasters in North America, including Katrina. Although violence and greed are often expected in such situations, Solnit's surprising conclusion is that we may be at our best at such times, not our worst.
Island in a Storm: A Rising Sea, a Vanishing Coast, and a Nineteenth-Century Disaster that Warns of a Warmer World (Public Affairs) by Abby Sallenger is a narrative history of an 1856 hurricane that destroyed the fashionable resort on Isle Derniere, near New Orleans, killing hundreds. Sallenger, a senior research oceanographer at the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, analyzes the reasons for that disaster and explains how global warming will make such calamities more likely. (See Book Talk, Page 8, for a local signing by Sallenger this week.)
Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans (Henry Holt) by Ethan Brown is the chilling story of Zackery Bowen, an Iraq war veteran who returned to his home in New Orleans not long before Katrina, and bartender Addie Hall, and how their romance tumbled from glowing news accounts of their endurance after the storm to Hall's gruesome murder and Bowen's suicide — a fall that indicts the military's treatment of its soldiers.
The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans (Lawrence Hill) by Ned Sublette is a lyrical history of the Crescent City in the past half-century, a more personal followup to his previous book, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. A musician and musicologist, Sublette writes with passion and precision of New Orleans' music and Mardi Gras, violence and racism, and its unique — and now perhaps permanently damaged — culture.
Colette Bancroft, Times book editor