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A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in… (2009)

by Rebecca Solnit

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6512829,566 (3.75)29
Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster, people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? Award-winning author Solnit explores this phenomena, looking at major calamities from the past 100 years.

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» See also 29 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Solnit's books are always a slow read for me, not sure why. I bogged down a bit early on, but the stories are great and it is worth working through to the end.

Pretty much everything you know about citizens in disasters is wrong. ( )
  wunder | Feb 3, 2022 |
I like the premise of this book , that in the aftermath of disasters people band together for mutual aid and are much more tolerant and flexible than the government and other large organizations. However the actual text had a lot of problems with it. First of all it was way to wordy. I think a good editor would have thrown out about two thirds of the book. The wordiness was exacerbated by the endless repetition of the same theme. On the one hand I like that different disasters and different reactions to them were described, but all of them came down to the same message. That makes me wonder whether the author picked the disasters that suited her conclusions. At times the tone was preachy and bombastic. In short I like the message but not the writing. ( )
  Marietje.Halbertsma | Jan 9, 2022 |
unbelievable ( )
  Overgaard | Sep 23, 2021 |
I struggled with how to properly review this. The best way to put it is that it felt like both more than and less than one book. More because this was an ambitious look at disasters over a century-plus, including macro looks at their impacts, personal stories, and the contribution to the author's overall thesis. It was far too much for me to take in, and it especially seemed like the post-Hurricane Katrina violence was both compelling enough and sufficiently new information to have its own publication.

But these individual stories also didn't add up to a coherent story for me. I don't know what was the intent of many of the subjects like the orphaned kids in Halifax and the out-of-touch municipal leadership in San Francisco here, as there was already plenty of setting established in the very dense chapters. ( )
  jonerthon | Apr 4, 2021 |
This is a provocative and engaging read that has helped me reconsider the way I have viewed disaster. Solnit examines several North American disasters from 1906 onward, and her chapters on 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are particularly enlightening. I recommend this book as a study in disaster, community, and the way elite panic destroys this community. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Highly recommended. ***All levels/libraries.
added by Christa_Josh | editChoice, M. Mukahy (Jan 1, 2010)
Emergency planning, such as securing levees, can help protect the vulnerable. Yet state-sponsored projects don't fit into Solnit's picture of spontaneous, anarchic recovery, so they get little attention here. Nonetheless, this is a bracing, timely book.
The West Coast essayist and social critic Rebecca Solnit is the kind of rugged, off-road public intellectual America doesn’t produce often enough. It’s been fascinating to watch her zigzagging career unfold.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Solnit, Rebeccaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McNew, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Who are you? Who are we? In times of crisis, these are life-and-death questions.
The utilitarian argument against fiestas, parades, carnivals, and general public merriment is that they produce nothing. But they do: they produce society. They renew the reasons why we might want to belong and the feeling that we do. p 173
For the past 20 years, U.S. radicals have been speaking of ‘the politics of prefiguration’: of the idea that you can and must embody whatever liberty, justice, democracy you aspire to, and in doing so in your self, your community, or your movement you achieve a degree of victory, whatever you do beyond that. Thus political demonstrations around the country have become less like complaints and more like celebrations. p 177
But disaster doesn’t sort us out by preferences; it drags us into emergencies that require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative in order to survive or save the neighbors, no matter how we vote or what we do for a living. The positive emotions that rise in those unpromising circumstances demonstrate that social ties and meaningful work are deeply desired, readily improvised, and intensely rewarding. The very structure of our economy and society prevents these goals from being achieved. The structure is also ideological, a philosophy that best serves the wealthy and powerful but shapes all of our lives, reinforced as the conventional wisdom disseminated by the media, from news hours to disaster movies. The facets of that ideology have been called individualism, capitalism, and Social Darwinism and have appeared in the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Malthus, as well as the work of most conventional contemporary economists who presume we seek personal gain for rational reasons and refrain from looking at the ways a system skewed to that end damages what else we need for our survival and desire for our well-being. Disaster demonstrates this, since among the factors determining whether you will live or die are the health of your immediate community and the justness of your society. We need ties, but they along with purposefulness, immediacy, and agency also give us joy – the startling, sharp joy I found in accounts of disaster survivors. These account demonstrate that the citizens any paradise would need – the people who are brave enough, resourceful enough, and generous enough – already exist. The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way. p 7
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Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster, people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? Award-winning author Solnit explores this phenomena, looking at major calamities from the past 100 years.

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