The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity"
-"The Second Coming" -- W.B. Yeats
As Hurricane Katrina was gathering force in the Gulf Coast at the end of August 2005, my husband and I were glued to the news and worried sick. Worry turned into fear when it hit. Then fear turned into grief when the levees failed and New Orleans flooded.
And then over the next few days, worry, fear, and grief slowly turned into rage.
Watching the news that week, you got the stories, but they were fragmented and filled with confusion and misinformation. Brinkley's book has just enough distance, time-wise, from Hurricane Katrina to put all the facts in order and provide the kind of comprehensive coverage that you couldn't get from even the best news sources in the thick of things.
Unfortunately, it's even worse than you thought. Rapes, sniper fire, cops turned bad, bureaucracy at its inefficient and indifferent worst. There were many heroes to emerge from the storm, and Brinkley really gives them credit where it's due, especially the Coast Guard, the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the medical professionals who chose to stay behind with patients too ill to evacuate.
But then there are the villains. What Brinkley really does well is to document their crimes, separating the incompetent from the actively evil. Ole "heck of a job" Brownie may have been Katrina's scapegoat, but he barely holds a candle to the NOPD, Mayor Ray Nagin, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (perhaps the biggest bad of them all), and the people of Gretna, Louisiana who prevented hurricane survivors from entering their city at gunpoint.
Get ready to scream, and then to sink into a deep, deep depression about the country you live in. That said, if you are an even semi-engaged resident of the United States, you ought to read this book.