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Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms Hardcover – August 16, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John McQuaid is the author of "Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat" and his journalism has appeared in "Smithsonian" magazine, "The" "Washington Post", "Wired", Forbes.com, and "Eating Well" magazine. His science and environment reporting for "The Times-Picayune" anticipated Hurricane Katrina, explored the global fisheries crisis and the problems of invasive species. His work has won a Pulitzer Prize, as well as awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. McQuaid is a graduate of Yale. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and two children.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (August 16, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031601642X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316016421
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #648,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book, a real page turner. I lived in Louisiana for eight years, and the book really captures a lot of the history, the culture and the realities that led up to the tragedy that befell my beloved former home on my birthday last year.

The narrative is riveting without insulting the intelligence of the reader.

The tragedy of Katrina began many years earlier, and this book helps place events in context. Fully a third of the book recounts history prior to the first raindrops hitting Louisiana.

The book steers a nice balance. It is deep enough to illuminate the political, economic and engineering factors that created the mess, but not so dry as to make it stuffy. It really presents a compelling case study in public policy and illustrates how important geography is to understanding our future.

It is clear that the authors' familiarity with the subject going back several years helped with the background portion of the book. These guys really know this stuff.

This should be a model for a popular account of a major event.

I know that some people may be unhappy that the book skirts over material supporting the second half of the title ("Coming Age of Superstorms") and others may object to any discussion of that topic, but I think that the authors do a good job placing their argument within the framework of mainstream thinking about climate change.

My only complaint is that I wish that there were more maps.
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By Trish on August 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I was amazed at how much information was included in this book -- broad historical perspective, day-by-day, hour-by-hour accounts of the days immediately following the storm -- both what was happening in New Orleans and what was happening in Washington, plus scientific background on how hurricanes form. I highly recommend it!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Path of Destruction provides an in-depth background to the geographic, technical and political contributions to the Katrina disaster. It describes the natural challenges of settling on the active Mississippi delta, the innately human bone-headed attempts to protect settlements on an increasingly vulnerable marshland, and the classic political forces (farces?) over the centuries that made problems worse, and it does it all in a very readable way.

I grew up in New Orleans, and visit family there often, so I thought I understood the growing threat from hurricanes, yet McQuaid and Schleifstein filled in the gaps, and corrected common misconceptions; it is impressively well researched. (The horrendous tale of the response to the great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 alone is worth the price of admission.)

This is what I would call a "crossover book": Even if you're sick of hearing about Katrina-this and New Orleans-that, this book is interesting and readable enough to earn space on your "classic studies of human behavior" bookshelf.
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Format: Hardcover
At its best, this book gives the broadest, most clear-headed analysis so far of why and how New Orleans was nearly destroyed.

In the first half - which in my opinion makes this book essential reading for ordinary citizens and officials alike - the authors trace the root causes to geological and topographical causes, made worse by human factors, economic, political and bureaucratic. The authors succeed in showing these causes become intertwined, going as far back to the formation of the Mississippi Delta millennia ago and coming to a head in the 20th century with the development of modern New Orleans.

The second half of the book gives a blow-by-blow account of Katrina's landfall and its aftermath, seen through the eyes a handful of disparate residents struggling to survive, and through those who (mis)managed the disaster, as well. The authors bring to life the victims of the storm, emphasizing their suffering and perseverance.

The authors portray whatever successes the disaster relief had in saving lives and easing suffering as being a patchwork of ad-hoc efforts by low- to mid-level officials who threw out the book. Those in officialdom who made interpreting the book their biggest priority - Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the heads of Homeland Security, FEMA and the military - are described in less-than-heroic terms (though "Brownie" appears less the incompetent political hack than he's generally portrayed as being by the media, though I suspect the authors merely took the head of FEMA at his word, in interviews and his self-serving congressional testimony).

Those more concerned about saving their own political skin than in saving people's lives - the Bush administration - are justly cast as outright boobs.
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Format: Hardcover
In 2002, John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein wrote "Washing Away," an award-winning series for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The authors exposed the unique vulnerability of New Orleans to hurricanes, exploring "an obvious but little-acknowledged fact: here was a city that, for the six months of every hurricane season, lived with a substantial risk of utter annihilation...much of the city was built on top of a swamp, below sea level and gradually sinking."

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. In Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms, McQuaid and Schleifstein revisit familiar territory, helping readers understand why this tragic event happened when there were so many warnings.

Path of Destruction outlines the factors that contributed to the tragedy in New Orleans. By 2005, many levees were still incomplete and those built had inadequate safety levels, with safety factors of 1.3 (bridges have a safety factor of 2). The Army Corps of Engineers were more interested in commerce than hurricane safety. When combined with sinking marshlands and unstable soil, these facts increased the likelihood that levees would be overtopped or broken by a Category 2 hurricane, turning much of New Orleans into a lake. Hurricanes sweeping in off the Gulf of Mexico no longer have extensive marshlands to diminish the storm's strength for "the delta has collapsed like a souffle."

McQuaid and Schleifstein also provide extensive evaluation of Katrina's aftermath. Once the levees broke, 80% of New Orleans was under water and the delayed response by FEMA severely increased the misery caused by Katrina.
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