A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

by Rebecca Solnit

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The author of Men Explain Things to Me explores the moments of altruism and generosity that arise in the aftermath of disaster

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101459010
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/31/2010
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 55,501
File size: 676 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
lindapanzo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is subtitled "the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster" which pretty much says it all. Taking a sociological approach, looking at peoples' responses to major disasters, rather than focusing on official responses, Solnit talks about how, in most disasters, survivors tend to band together and act as a community, in an altrustic way, almost a utopia. This is contrary to popular perception (and disaster movies) which shows that people typically become mobs of looters, or murder and rape and pillage weaker survivors.Though survivors rarely panic, elites (including governments and other "official responders" such as the military or police), Solnit says, often do react badly in what she calls elite panic. She cites the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the Katrina response as two key instances of "elite panic."Solnit looks at a number of disasters--the S.F. earthquake, the Halifax explosion during World War 1, the London blitz, and, more recently, 9/11 and Katrina. The chapters on Katrina were most heartrending.Between disasters, Solnit's interludes address various philosophical, sociological, and related issues, such as mutual aid. The quality of these were more uneven, though I absolutely loved the chapters on the disasters themselves and their aftermaths.I think this book could end up being one of my favorites of the year though I admit that it might not be for everyone. If you're a firm believer in law and order or trust the government, this book might not be for you. Solnit gets a bit preachy at times but overall, this is a tremendous book.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Solnit's thesis is that people come together in times of crisis and work for the common good, and that any belief that people more commonly act or their own self interest at such times, and become looters and hoarders, is overstated. Much more likely to occur is an ¿elite panic¿ that casts the people as a mob to be feared and controlled. She primarily uses the historical examples from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the massively destructive explosion in Halifax of a ship carrying munitions for World War I, and more recent disasters such as the earthquake in Mexico City in 1985, the 9/11 attacks and when New Orleans was almost destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.Solnit researched and reports on the work done by early thinkers on the subject, and recent sociologists who have studied disasters. She greatly values the work done by Charles Fritz, who wrote that during disasters ¿[t]he widespread sharing of danger, loss, and deprivation produces an intimate, primarily group solidarity among the survivors, which overcomes social isolation, provides a channel for intimate communication and expression, and provides a major source of physical and emotional support and reassurance.¿ This phenomena, together with the satisfaction that people derive from the altruistic actions that they take on in providing mutual aid to their fellow survivors can instill great joy. Thus, disaster can offer temporary solutions to the alienations and isolations of everyday life, producing a changed sense of self. This is the paradise of her title, and she wistfully imagines a world where we can experience this paradise in our everyday lives. At the end of the book, she writes, ¿making paradise is the work that we were meant to do.¿The book really picked up for me in the second half, in the portions devoted to the 9/11 attack in New York City and Hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans. I found that part of the book very compelling, and I read it voraciously. I was surprised that I was still unaware of many terrible events that occurred in Katrina's aftermath. I was also happy to read about the efforts that arose to restore community there in the weeks, months and years that followed, which I was also unaware of.
Janientrelac on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Solnit has an axe to grind, the supidity of governments and their problems coping with disasters and i can't argue with her about that. the concept of "elite panic" is excellent, and illuminating. The theme about how much individuals enjoy the process of coping with a disaster, how "good" it is for them troubles me. How can we as a society do that without blowing things up?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tedious, long-winded, one-sided lacking objective perspective Just keeps saying the same thing over and over and over I fell asleep trying to get through this seemingly soap box preaching