A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years." -Bill McKibben
The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of what society could become-one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local.
Disaster utopias and elite panics: 4.5 stars
By S. McGee - September 8, 2009
Sometimes, a book comes along that forces me to stop reading every few pages. Not because it's badly written, clumsily argued or otherwise defective. But simply because it's so provocative, so compelling and so articulate that I had to pause in order to digest a whole raft of new ideas, toss out some old preconceptions and ponder some important questions.
Solnit's core argument -- that we can find hints of a humanist-style utopia in the world's worst disasters -- is not only provocative but fascinating, as she amasses a host of evidence to prove her point from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 up to Hurricane Katrina nearly a century later, disasters that range from the Halifax explosion during World War 1 to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in both New York and Washington. In the midst of these disasters, as she chronicles repeatedly, people -- ordinary individuals, not institutions -- rose to the occasion. Rather than panicking, they acted, whether that meant battling to... read more
A thoughtful, and thought-provoking, account of how people respond to disaster
By David M. Giltinan - December 1, 2010
About a month ago I heard Rebecca Solnit speak about this book on a local radio program and she was so incredibly smart and passionate and articulate, and her thesis was so appealing, that I felt compelled to give it a try. "A Paradise Built in Hell" was well worth it. It's an extraordinary book -- fascinating, thought-provoking, and ultimately persuasive in supporting Solnit's thesis. And although her style is somewhat undisciplined, and the material could have been more tightly organized, I didn't find these aspects annoying, probably because they seemed to be primarily a manifestation of her infectious enthusiasm for the material.
Viewers of "The History Channel" will be familiar with its habit of broadcasting a regularly scheduled "Apocalypse Week", during which they attempt to goose the ratings by scaring the bejasus out of their viewing audience. A typical day's programming during Apocalypse Week takes one possible way in which the world might end (megavolcano... read more
We Are Better Than We Think We Are
By J. Bradley Hicks - October 11, 2009
Before I picked up this book, I didn't even know that there was an academic field called "disaster sociology." It turns out it goes back to William James himself, an eyewitness to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake who had the open-mindedness to look at how the people of San Francisco were affected by that disaster without projecting his own prejudices on it. He was astonished; people in disasters don't act anything like how we would expect them to. James' findings have been replicated by studying people in hundreds of historical and modern disasters, and from those studies disaster sociologists have come to some concrete, reliable scientific findings. Solnit believes very, very much that the rest of us need to know what the disaster sociologists know, because our mistaken expectations of what will happen during and immediately after disasters keep making things worse, not better, for the survivors. Before James Lee Witt took over FEMA, and ever since he left, it's been a standing joke... read more
Former journalist and skeptic Lee Strobel has discovered something very interesting about science. Far from being the enemy of faith, science may now provide a solid foundation for believing in God. ...