Overview



On July 13, 1977, there was a blackout in New York City. With the dark came excitement, adventure, and fright in subway tunnels, office towers, busy intersections, high-rise stairwells, hotel lobbies, elevators, and hospitals. There was revelry in bars and restaurants, music and dancing in the streets. On block after block, men and women proved themselves heroes by helping neighbors and strangers make it through the night.

Unfortunately, ...
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Blackout

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Overview



On July 13, 1977, there was a blackout in New York City. With the dark came excitement, adventure, and fright in subway tunnels, office towers, busy intersections, high-rise stairwells, hotel lobbies, elevators, and hospitals. There was revelry in bars and restaurants, music and dancing in the streets. On block after block, men and women proved themselves heroes by helping neighbors and strangers make it through the night.

Unfortunately, there was also widespread looting, vandalism, and arson. Even before police restored order, people began to ask and argue about why. Why did people do what they did when the lights went out? The argument raged for weeks but it was just like the night: lots of heat, little light--a shouting match between those who held fast to one explanation and those who held fast to another.

James Goodman cuts between accidents, encounters, conversations, exchanges, and arguments to re-create that night and its aftermath in a dizzying accumulation of detail. Rejecting simple dichotomies and one-dimensional explanations for why people act as they do in moments of conflict and crisis, Goodman illuminates attitudes, ideas, and experiences that have been lost in facile generalizations and analyses. Journalistic re-creation at its most exciting, Blackout provides a whirlwind tour of 1970s New York and a challenge to conventional thinking.

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Editorial Reviews

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During the relatively calm blackout of 2003, many New Yorkers sat on stoops reminiscing about their experiences during the much more exciting and violent blackout of 1977. When all the lights went out on a sweltering July evening 26 years earlier, Gotham slid into a crisis that would have frustrated even Batman. While some Manhattanites reveled in candlelight, mobs rampaged in several boroughs, torching buildings and looting more than 2,000 stores citywide. James Goodman's staccato oral history recaptures the night when New York City went mad.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429928069
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/5/2005
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • File size: 447 KB

Read an Excerpt


Blackout
1Afterward everyone wanted to know why.There had to be a reason.People wanted to know what it was.Or they thought they knew what it was, and they wanted to say.Either way, they talked about it, talked in English, Spanish, Russian, and Korean; in Japanese, French, and German; in Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese.For weeks it seemed as if they talked about nothing else.They talked about why, when the lights went out, people did the things that they did. 
People also wanted to know why the lights went out in the first place.Not everyone, but some:Reporters. Mayor. Governor. City, state, and federal regulators. Certain customers. Even the president of the United States, who happened to have a keen interest in energy.So they talked about it, and they asked Con Edison officials, who also wanted to know but would have preferred not to talk about it. They asked Con Edison to explain what went wrong.There had to be a reason.People wanted to know what it was. 
Con Edison officials said it was lightning.They hoped it was lightning.Lightning is easy to explain, and there is no one, on earth, to blame. 
Or they thought they knew what it was, and they wanted to say.They thought there was a reason, one reason.One reason for all the things those people did in the dark.One reason for the things they do. 
Electrical engineers said it was more complicated than that. Lightning may have played a role, but to say that lightning caused the blackout would be like saying the wind caused the capsizing of a poorly designed sailboat sailed by an inexperienced or even incompetent captain and crew. 
Almost everyone agreed there was a reason. 
There was lightning.Not so much in the city, but just to the north, in the rocky rolling hills of Westchester County, the precious wedge of New York State that sits atop the Bronx. So much lightning that in Oradell, New Jersey, a budding scientist, nineteen years old, who climbed out on his roof after hearing severe storm warnings on the radio, could see it, great bolts in deep dark clouds. He stood thirty miles from the storm. 
But people disagreed about what that reason was. 
Half the city's power came through Westchester.It traveled along conductors, thick transmission cables, each made up of many strands of wire hung on hundred-foot steel towers. The towers were laid out like a letter Y--albeit a Y drawn by a very young child. The top of the Y leaned so far to the left (which was west) that its right fork pointed due north.The right fork brought power from upstate New York and New England. The left fork brought it from three power plants along the Hudson River: Roseton, an oil-burning plant in Newburgh; Bowline, another oil-burning plant, twenty-six miles to the south; and Indian Point, a nuclear power plant on the other side (the east side) of the river. Left and right forks met in Millwood, like busy lanes of southbound traffic, and merged into a congested corridor of towers, power lines, and substations in the west-central Westchester towns of Pleasantville, Eastview, Sprain Brook, and Dunwoodie. South of Sprain Brook and Dunwoodie, the lines went underground. 
So they argued: raised their voices, shook their heads, waved their arms, pointed fingers, as if they were hammering invisible nails.And argued. 
It is not anyone's idea of a perfect system. If Con Edison had had more land at its disposal, it would have run its transmission lines over soil that was less rocky and therefore less resistant to electricity; it would have built more towers and put fewer circuits on each one. But Westchester is squeezed between the Hudson River, the southwest corner of Connecticut, and Long Island Sound. Land is expensive, wide-open space scarce. Rights-of-way are hard to come by. 
They had strong feelings and opinions.The stakes were high. 
Lightning struck right in the middle of that corridor, at 8:37 in the evening, in the midst of a ferocious storm. It struck a tower carrying conductors between substations in Buchanan and Millwood, 345-kilovolt lines that supplied 1,200 megawatts of power from Roseton, Bowline, and Indian Point. 
 
The arguments took some nasty turns.It was New York.It was July. It was 1977.Many people were in sour moods to begin with.Copyright © 2003 by James Goodman
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