A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit
Recommended by Kris Jorgensen
Librarian II, Vista Branch
Rebecca Solnit is one of my favorite writers for her ability to see the larger forces that shape our society and draw connections from different fields and times. In this book she looks at disasters and how those who live through them arise to meet the challenges left in their wake. Beginning with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Solnit covers the events and aftermaths of five major North American disasters (including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) and includes information on other disasters from around the world. Using the latest disaster research, historical documents, and her own interviews with survivors, she shows that while devastating in some ways, disasters also create extraordinary moments of human solidarity. Rather than resorting to chaos and looting, as portrayed in the popular media, she shows how communities more often come together to take care of each other with resourcefulness, ingenuity, and sacrifice. They do this voluntarily without being told to and without asking for a reward. Solnit argues that the disruption of daily life caused by these disasters allows people to more ably see the needs of those around them and work together to meet those needs. In doing so, temporary utopias are formed. Survivors of these disasters who participated in this vital work often look back on it as a joyful time of community coming together to do meaningful work. In the end, this hopeful book is not so much about disasters as it is about the potential that exists just below the surface of daily life to create a freer and more compassionate society.