"We may be too close to September 11 to appreciate a study of the meanings of disaster; still, the attacks could spur interest in how Americans responded to past disasters. Biel, the director of studies in history and literature at Harvard, has assembled a provocative and illuminating collection."
"Brings to life, in a brisk and accessible format, a brilliant group of men and women who preferred to do good rather than well and left a rich legacy of creative thought."
-American Historical Review
"Biel's reappraisal contributes something new to our understanding of the significance of the intellectuals of the 1910s: their important role as antecedents for a succeeding generation of socially committed public intellectuals."
-The Journal of American History
"A textured history, one in which Biel's intellectuals emerge as serious, passionate, and very human workers grappling with the twin dragons of American materialism and self-identity."
"Biel (history and literature, Harvard; Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster) here considers 13 human-made and natural disasters, both famous and forgotten, that have occurred in American history, including the 1789 famine on the northern border, the San Francisco Earthquake, the Great Chicago Fire, and the Challenger disaster. Each disaster gets its own chapter, which is not simply a straightforward account of "what happened next"; contributors put each episode into context and question the popular "lessons" that were often propagated immediately after. Similar recent volumes include Ted Steinberg's Acts of God (LJ 9/1/00) and Dreadful Visitations, edited by Alessa Johns (Routledge, 2001). The important difference is that those books cover strictly natural disasters and as such only complement rather than substitute for this work. It is uncertain whether the publisher will use the terrorist attacks of September 11 as a touchstone for advertising this book, but the uncanny timing of its publication is hard to miss. Recommended for all libraries."
About the Author
Steven Biel is Director of Studies in History and Literature at Harvard University, and the author of Down With the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster.