Daily Archives: September 16, 2009

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit

Take the interesting observation that human beings can come together and behave in uncommonly altruistic ways during and after disasters and introduce it to a most willing reader who herself noticed unusual teamwork and community spirit both after the Loma Prieta earthquake and the Oakland Hills fire. You should get a delighted reader, right? Well, not exactly.

The author’s agenda in A Paradise Built in Hell seems to adhere rigidly to demonstrating that (1) government is always completely hapless at responding to disasters (2) the very forces that creates post-disaster people power also topple the evil government strictures and structures that hampered the government’s response in the first place  (3) and  it’s only the rich who hesitate to join into the community post-disaster because they are so worried about hanging on to their privileges. She is so intent on demonstrating her thesis that she is clearly puzzled  that the upswell of teamwork after the Loma Prieta quake did not resolve Oakland’s problems (although it did result in the clearing out of the old freeway.) She tells plenty of horrifying stories about vigilantes shooting young black men in post-Katrina New Orleans but seems to forget that she should provide some proof, not just hearsay from volunteers — and at the same time she lambasts the media for amplifying the crazy tales about bizarre crimes in the Superdome…

Despite my general dislike of the book, I will close with a funny quote from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may have to go to Oakland.” Snooty San Franciscans!

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