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From the Publisher"Not earthquakes or oil spills, but the symbolic interpretation of untoward events is under examination here. Writing across the disciplines with a keen eye for difference and power, these students of American society insist that disasters offer no single ‘truth' or ‘lesson' but occasions for articulating and contesting claims on the nation's future. A brilliant thread runs through the collection, illuminating how people make even the most destructive events meaningful—and do so very differently. The authors' consistent attention to cultural interpretations which resist capitalist values and dominant gender and racial hierarchies was especially rewarding. This volume encourages us to think more deeply about what is at stake when disasters unfold in American communities. It should top the reading list of disaster scholars entrenched in the empirical social sciences and attract a new audience of those passionately interested in people, place, and risk."
-Dr. Elaine Enarson,Disaster Sociologist, coeditor of The Gendered Terrain of Disasters: Through Women's Eyes
"A provocative and illuminating collection."
"Covering disasters both natural (hurricanes in colonial America, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) and mechanical (the Challenger explosion, Chicago's deadly 1977 el train crash), these essays use contemporary media and political responses to explicate the cultural ramifications of the events. Novels published after the great Chicago fire of 1871 emphasized how the fire was both a punishment for the city's sins and also "the inscrutable workings of a divine hand" to make Chicago a more perfect physical city. Feminist writings used the chivalry of male passengers in the 1912 Titanic sinking to criticize 'the failure of men to protect women and children on shore,' while African-Americans' view of it as a 'white disaster' generated a large body of populist poems and songs that celebrated the absence of black victims…. Biel… has assembled a provocative and illuminating collection."
"While we have numerous books about specific disasters, the general subfield of disaster studies in the context of cultural history is just beginning to take shape, and this work will in a way mark its debut. . . . This is one of those rare books that is scholarly and intellectually sophisticated, yet because of the inherent interest in the topic and the literary talent of the authors, it should have significant appeal to the general reading public."
-Paul Boyer,Merle Curti Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison