Katrina: A History, 1915-2015
Harvard University Press (July 2020)
The definitive history of Katrina: an epic of city-making, revealing how engineers and oil executives, politicians and musicians, and neighbors black and white built New Orleans, then watched it sink under the weight of their competing ambitions.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans on August 29, 2005, but the disaster's causes and consequences extend across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. After the city weathered a major hurricane in 1915, its Sewerage and Water Board believed that developers could safely build housing away from the high ground near the Mississippi. And so New Orleans grew in lowlands that relied on significant government subsidies to stay dry. When the flawed levee system surrounding the city and its suburbs failed, these were the neighborhoods that were devastated. The homes that flooded belonged to Louisianans black and white, rich and poor. Katrina’s flood washed over the twentieth-century city.
The flood line tells one important story about Katrina, but it is not the only story that matters. Andy Horowitz investigates the response to the flood, when policymakers reapportioned the challenges the water posed, making it easier for white New Orleanians to return home than it was for African Americans. And he explores how the profits and liabilities created by Louisiana’s oil industry have been distributed unevenly among the state’s citizens for a century, prompting both dreams of abundance―and a catastrophic land loss crisis that continues today.
Laying bare the relationship between structural inequality and physical infrastructure―a relationship that has shaped all American cities―Katrina offers a chilling glimpse of the future disasters we are already creating.
"Katrina: A History, 1915–2015"
August 26, 2020
Hosted by Tulane University's New Orleans Center for the Gulf South
"Brilliant… More than just a recounting of the history and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it is an argument for the relevance of history itself… If you want to read only one book to better understand why people in positions of power in government and industry do so little to address climate change, even with wildfires burning and ice caps melting and extinctions becoming a daily occurrence, this is the one." —Scott W. Stern, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Necessary... masterful... vividly illustrate[d]... Horowitz set out to tell a good story, but he also has another goal: to explain what made New Orleans so vulnerable before, during, and after Katrina. In the process, he calls attention to the policies that privileged economic development over human and environmental security; to the faith in the power of technology, engineering, and infrastructure to control nature, along with the failure to fully invest in the systems that experts designed; to a persistent commitment to racial segregation in city planning and a deep suspicion of federal authorities who challenged the established order; and to a local power elite that proved willing to tolerate and reproduce the everyday disasters—poverty, violence, insecurity of all kinds—that New Orleans generated, even on its finest days."—Eric Klinenberg, New York Review of Books
"By stretching the frame backward by a hundred years, and forward by ten, Horowitz presents a strikingly different story, and a more depressing one. The main thrust of Horowitz’s account is to make us understand Katrina—the civic calamity, not the storm itself—as a consequence of decades of bad decisions by humans, not an unanticipated caprice of nature." —Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker
A "necessary book...Horowitz rightly and trenchantly offers Katrina as an encapsulation of the big global challenges with which capitalism, racism, socio-economic inequality and global warming confront us all." —Peter Coates, Times Literary Supplement
"[T]he fact that Katrina’s impact fell disproportionately on poor Louisianans raises a host of issues that Horowitz addresses better than any previous narrative history of the catastrophe."—Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor
“[A] sweeping overview of the historic, social and economic factors that played into the disaster and its aftermath.” —The New Orleans Advocate / Times-Picayune
"Horowitz debuts with a vivid and persuasive chronicle of the 'causes and consequences' of Hurricane Katrina... Horowitz argues that a combination of environmental challenges, structural racism, and governmental misjudgment resulted in a massive loss of life... Even readers who have never visited the Crescent City will be moved by this incisive account." —Publishers Weekly (starred review, "book of the week")
“Katrina: A History is a beautiful book about a long, ugly chapter in our nation’s history. Horowitz brilliantly demonstrates that the storm carried with it a century of poor decisions that both preceded and followed the disaster. Corporate greed, misguided policymaking, environmental blindness, corrupt politics, crippling racism, and class inequality: all these human failings were as significant as the broken levees and hurricane-force winds. This is not just a compelling history; it is a distressing warning about our future.”—Lizabeth Cohen, author of Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age
“This is by far the most important treatment of Hurricane Katrina—an extraordinarily valuable work of scholarship. Andy Horowitz offers a fresh perspective that serves both as a corrective and also an entirely different way of understanding one of the most critical chapters in the nation’s environmental and political history.”—Ari Kelman, author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
“In 2005, in the eyes of many, the history of New Orleans and lower Louisiana shrank to a single moment of natural disaster. Andy Horowitz’s Katrina recovers the all-too-human policies, limited perspectives, and sheer greed that created the conditions for the events of 2005 over the course of the previous century—conditions that prevented an equitable recovery process, and continue to obscure the ways in which ‘Katrina’ was not just about one unfortunate group of people, but also heralds our collective future. This book is an important reinterpretation of the history of New Orleans, the history of disaster, and the history of our nation.”—Leslie M. Harris, author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863
“This book sees not only the forest and the trees but the blades of grass between the trees. Horowitz properly places the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in the much larger context of regional history, national and local policy decisions, and societal mores which all added up to having tragic if—mostly—unintended consequences, while not losing sight of intimate details and the personal stories of those who experienced the storm and rebuilt the city. Well-written and at times gripping, this is the most important book about Katrina so far.”—John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America
"Calling upon a century of history to tell the story of what many Americans limit to a span of days or weeks, Horowitz’s Katrina is a devastating and important text for understanding the deep-seated inequality, infrastructure failure, and government carelessness that led to one of America’s worst disasters."—Andru Okun, Los Angeles Review of Books
“For those who are interested in getting through this current disaster by reading about other disasters… The whole idea is that Katrina was not just a tragic singular event that happened in 2005, but the result of centuries of terrible—often intentional—political and business decisions … A super lively and engaging writer.”—The Strategist
"In an incisive book debut, historian Horowitz argues persuasively that the destruction incurred by Hurricane Katrina was not merely a meteorological event, but part of a long process of political, environmental, economic, and cultural decisions.... An eye-opening environmental history." —Kirkus Reviews
"In 2005, Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, Louisiana, killing hundreds of people, destroying thousands of homes, and ejecting more than 90,000 African American residents. Then-president George W. Bush called it 'a tragedy that seems so blind and random'. Not so, as historian Andy Horowitz documents disturbingly; much of it was human-led." —Nature ("the week's best science picks")
"While Katrina has been explored by a platoon of journalists, historians, memoirists, fiction writers, and makers of films and television shows, genuine insights into the “Why did this happen in America?” question are a little harder to come by... Andy Horowitz...answers this question by tracing more than a century of local and national political and economic decision making, shaping where and how people lived in and around metro New Orleans, who won and who lost. It’s a revealing way to frame the Katrina story. In a brief, bracing 200 pages, Horowitz chronicles an endless hustle in which governments and wealthy developers seize landscapes and mold them without regard to long-term consequences, and in which white people and moneyed interests have fixed advantages. Inequities and outrages, from stolen tribal lands to the splintered homes of Katrina refugees, are papered over again and again by layers of myth and self-delusion. It was these forces that created the circumstances of the disaster, and then mapped the city’s path of recovery. Katrina is a sadly predictable, distinctly American story." —John McQuaid, Washington Monthly
"Extremely relevant to our current debates regarding climate change, privatization, race, and inequality...The story of Katrina, in the hands of Horowitz, is at once energizing and horrifying in its clarify and scope...Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 feels like a call to action. A story of immense human suffering and the partial destruction of a city that is both distinct and vital to American culture. But repeatedly, the evidence shown in this book makes clear that our civilization has everything we need to prevent future harm to those who are vulnerable. I hope you read this book." —Justin Evans, Southern Review of Books ("best Southern books of July 2020")
"Horowitz’s lucid, detailed, and balanced account of the long, crooked paths that led up to Katrina reinforces one of history’s most important lessons...for better or for worse, things might have been different." —Matt Hanson, Daily Beast