A Paradise Built in Hell
The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
By Rebecca Solnit
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670021079, 368pp.)
Publication Date: August 20, 2009
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A startling investigation of what people do in disasters and why it matters
Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster? whether manmade or natural?people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? What makes the newfound communities and purpose many find in the ruins and crises after disaster so joyous? And what does this joy reveal about ordinarily unmet social desires and possibilities?
In A Paradise Built in Hell, award-winning author Rebecca Solnit explores these phenomena, looking at major calamities from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco through the 1917 explosion that tore up Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She examines how disaster throws people into a temporary utopia of changed states of mind and social possibilities, as well as looking at the cost of the widespread myths and rarer real cases of social deterioration during crisis. This is a timely and important book from an acclaimed author whose work consistently locates unseen patterns and meanings in broad cultural histories.
Rebecca Solnit is the author of numerous books, including Hope in the Dark, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. In 2003, she received the prestigious Lannan Literary Award.
The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster: Perhaps the primary virtue of Rebecca Solnit's clear-headed new book is that it does not simply swap one interpretation of disaster -- as anticonsumerist reckoning, for instance -- for another, such as Jerry Falwell-style damnation. Solnit is interested in how people act in the aftermath, for better and for worse.