Book Review--September, 2006
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The book review for the month of September, 2006 is one that is on time for a change, and in light of the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it is most appropriate. The featured book, Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms by John McQuaiid and Mark Schleifstein gives a detailed account of the history of New Orleans and its struggles with its own susceptibility to flooding and hurricanes, the impact and aftermath of Katrina itself, and the possibility of even more dangerous storms crashing ashore in the coming years.

Isaacs Storm

Nearly one year after the terrible devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans as well as the rest of the Central Gulf Coast of the United States, I journeyed to the local bookstore, and purchased several books including Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. Looking at the title initially, I was a bit hesitant about buying the book especially in light of the fact that I had never heard of the authors John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein.

I was aware of their work for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which was a special investigative series on the dire predicament of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area to hurricanes in 2002 that earned them a Pulitzer Prize, but I didn't know they had written the articles. Then after reading the back cover and inside sleeves, I realized that this book warranted further investigation. I skimmed through some of the chapters and scanned the book's Table of Contents, and decided to take the book home with me.

To me the title, or more specifically, the subtitle didn't capture the entire story of the book. While the authors discuss the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the City of New Orleans, and its aftermath as well as the sign of things to come in terms of hurricanes and their possible relationship with global warming, they only discuss the "Coming Age of Superstorms" in basically one chapter and talk in great detail about how the tragedy in New Orleans occurred.

In other words, a subtitle that also captured the centuries old problem of New Orleans' vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding, the corruption, greed, mismanagement, and incompetence that plagued government at all levels from the city's inception, and the poor work done by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a sound levee system to adequately protect the Big Easy would have been more appropriate. Nonetheless, I found this body of work to be both outstanding and riveting.

Previously known for their special investigative series, "Washing Away," which was published in the Times-Picayune four years ago, both McQuaid and Schleifstein lay down a detailed timeline of events and decisions made leading up to Hurricane Katrina's impact, and how all those events and decisions came together to ultimately devastate the city when the levee system was breeched in the wake of the powerful hurricane. During the course of the timeline they establish, both writers discuss how New Orleans evolved while being surrounded by water, and what early attempts were made at protecting the city.

Both also discuss the way state, local, and federal governments worked with each other during earlier disasters such as the Mississippi Flood of 1927 and Hurricane Betsy of 1965. They delve into great detail about how the federal government reorganization following the terrorist attacks of September 11th created additional bureaucracy that blinded the U.S. government's eye to natural disasters, and thus, placed less emphasis on them as well as FEMA's ability to deal with them.

Most of all though, this book puts the once highly regarded Army Corps of Engineers in the crosshairs for not only failing to live up to the promises made after Hurricane Betsy, but also for putting together a levee system that was actually worse than it was prior to the devastating Category Three Hurricane of 1965. Using the events leading up to Katrina's landfall as a foundation, the book then proceeds to provide a detailed account of events that happened simultaneously before, during, and after the costliest and one of the most deadliest hurricanes in United States History.

These accounts were given from people of all different kinds of backgrounds from those, who struggled to survive in the aftermath of the storm to those who held key positions in government bureaucracy and policymaking at all levels. Path of Destruction also looks into the first six months or so after the terrible storm as well as discusses the possibility that Hurricane Katrina could be a harbinger of things to come.

Path of Destruction is a type of read that leaves you intrigued from cover to cover. It is a literary work that tells you the story of Katrina from those, who not only dealt with the storm, but warned about it for years and lived through it. In addition, these two authors are just two examples of people trying to live in a city that is on life support. I was quite captivated by the book, and was astonished at the missed opportunities to help fortify the city against this very type of catastrophe. I was also spellbound with some of the people's struggle for survival in the face of such chaos and anarchy. I'm so glad to have purchased this book, and added it to my book collection. I strongly urge all of you to do the same, and buy the book.

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