As part of my research for a book I’m writing, I am reading “The Great Deluge,” by Douglas Brinkley. I’ve actually been reading this book for some time, taking it in small bites for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is that it will serve as material for just a section of my book, so I don’t need to complete it within any particular time frame or bump other reading material to accommodate it. A second very big reason is that I can’t read it too close to bedtime, when I normally do the bulk of my reading, because it’s highly likely to give me nightmares.
The book is an incredibly precise accounting of the lead-up to the storm and its aftermath. Anyone near a television during those days who watched from safety outside of the storm’s devastation no doubt can still recall the searing images of a city devastated, many of its people stranded and losing hope—if not their lives. Brinkley, a consummate historian, tells the story with the in-depth parsing of events that only a skilled historian can achieve, while also weaving a story that draws you into its grip from the first paragraph of the first chapter.
A lot of blame was slung around after Katrina had moved on, and much of it rightfully so. What I can’t help but conclude—and the book makes starkly evident—is that a failure of imagination was one of the greatest underpinnings to the human consequences of this disaster. Sometimes we forget that true horror lies not just in books and movies. Or maybe we want to forget, which is why we ignore our imaginations, allowing them to fail at the very time when life—potentially our own as well as others—may depend on it.