The first thing you notice about this impressive and important book is the title. The word Katrina stands alone. There's no Hurricane in sight. This omission is intentional. Horowitz's concern here is to reframe one of the worst calamities in US history as a product of human histories, rather than as an exceptional meteorological event. Hence the timeline: 1915–2015. The book contains just one chapter, albeit vividly rendered, on the horrors of August and September 2005. What matters is what came before and after. In a bravura act of historical investigation and synthesis, Horowitz skillfully weaves together the political ideologies, cultural values, and economic logics over the previous century that made the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans not only possible but inevitable. He then details the political decisions that may have produced more harm in the aftermath than the barreling winds and surging waters.

Horowitz decenters the “disaster” and recasts...

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