When Hurricane Katrina hit, Tulane University historian Douglas Brinkley reacted like a family man, getting himself, his wife and two young children out of their apartment overlooking the Mississippi River and safely on to Houston.
When he returned later to New Orleans to help with the rescue effort, Brinkley began thinking again like a historian.
“In another two to three weeks, the media trucks will have pulled out, but the people here will still have a lot to do,” he said Tuesday in an interview from Houston, where Tulane has temporarily relocated. “The architects will start working on blueprints for the new buildings and as a historian I am thinking about how one documents a deluge of this magnitude.”
In the first major book deal related to Katrina, Brinkley is planning “an analysis and narrative of the ongoing crisis in New Orleans in historical context,” according to his publisher, William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.
The book, tentatively titled “The Great Deluge,” is scheduled to be published by Morrow early next year. Brinkley says he will donate all proceeds to the Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum and research center based in the city’s French Quarter, where relatively little damage occurred.
Brinkley, whose previous books include “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War” and “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion,” has created a Tulane University Task Force to document the tragedy. Two Tulane students are at Houston’s Astrodome, where many storm victims have been housed.
“I could envision 20,000 oral histories,” he said. “The storm gets to the root of American culture – issues of race and politics and poverty.”
With the hurricane’s aftermath still unfolding, publishers say few book proposals have surfaced so far. Jonathan Karp, publisher of the Warner Twelve imprint at Warner Books, expects that to change.
“The idea of rebuilding an entire city is certainly worth the kind of coverage a book can provide,” Karp said. “You also have the stories of heroism. And I could imagine an illustrated book of the city. There are a lot of possibilities.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.