A Paradise Built in Hell

A Paradise Built in Hell

By Rebecca Solnit

  • Release Date: 2009-08-20
  • Genre: Social Science
Score: 5
From 6 Ratings
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A startling investigation of what people do in disasters and why it matters

Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster? whether manmade or natural?people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? What makes the newfound communities and purpose many find in the ruins and crises after disaster so joyous? And what does this joy reveal about ordinarily unmet social desires and possibilities?

In A Paradise Built in Hell, award-winning author Rebecca Solnit explores these phenomena, looking at major calamities from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco through the 1917 explosion that tore up Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She examines how disaster throws people into a temporary utopia of changed states of mind and social possibilities, as well as looking at the cost of the widespread myths and rarer real cases of social deterioration during crisis. This is a timely and important book from an acclaimed author whose work consistently locates unseen patterns and meanings in broad cultural histories.


  • Excellent Insights With Deep Perspective of Human Nature

    By AllyCat1952
    Ms. Solnit's book doesn't pull punches (pardon the cliche). Her stories about people in disasters the world over show the other side of disasters, the side of humanity that stands up ready to do anything to help. We are all so ready to let authorities take charge of emergencies even in the face of recent past disaster responses that were so horribly managed. Yet the stories in this book resonate with the incredible bravery and care that ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances take upon themselves to help those in most need after a disaster. For me, the individual stories Ms. Solnit tells throughout the book are the most compelling. Interviews with some of these extraordinary citizens are simply captivating. The studies related to disaster response and recovery are interesting, but only secondarily so. Although they serve to prove the validity that the experiences of the people in these stories are not the exception, but are more common than we might believe. The book does border on the edge of trying to make a case for a utopian anarchist society. But each time the author wanders off in that direction, she comes back to reality quickly and gets back to the compelling stories and research around disaster responses. I very much enjoyed the book and since I work for a small San Francisco nonprofit in the disaster preparedness, response and recovery sector, I appreciated the wealth of information even more. But this is a great book for any person hoping to learn about the possibilities our society holds hidden in the masses until disaster strikes. Alessa A.