Thursday, September 28, 2006

Best of the Katrina books review

Katrina was a test of Bush's faith in smaller government and his fixation on foreign terror, and rarely does history grade a presidency so quickly or so harshly. Because if Homeland Security and its stepchild, FEMA, was what stood between American and the next 9/11, then, as New Orleans learned the hard way, America was in deep trouble.

The full story of Katrina won't be told for years or even decades, but for a first draft of history, Horne's tome is the best of the bunch. Too often journalists books are little more than a series of anecdotes strung together (Halberstam creating the standard that many others have followed), but Horne manages the difficult trick of using personal tragedies to connect to a larger picture. One item that hadn't hit me fully though it's obvious on a map is why did the 17th street canal rupture only on the Orleans side of canal? The answer is the corruption/incompetence of the Orleans Parish levee board compared to the Jefferson Parish levee board - better maintenance on the Jefferson parish side.

What's most impressive is the breadth of subjects covered in Breach of Faith - hurricanes, levees, economics of recovery, Corps of Engineers, politics - Louisiana & Washington. In addition, Horne doesn't have an axe to grind like van Heerden & is far less biased than Brinkley.

The book does leave without much of an ending, but I've never believed that New Orleans can ever recover from Katrina. A shrinking city losing population for four straight decades just does not have the resources, leadership, or vision to rebound. As a case in point, even though New Orleans only has two industries - the port & tourism - it does seem a travesty that FEMA paid $116M for the rebuilding of the superdome, while the NFL just paid $15M.

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