The best books about the importance of community during shocks and disasters

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery
By Daniel P. Aldrich

Who am I?

We moved to New Orleans in July 2005. We had six weeks in our first home, filling it with furniture, buying a new car, and taking advantage of my first job. When Hurricane Katrina collapsed the levees holding back the nearby lakes, our home – and those of 80% of the city – filled with water. As I waited for FEMA and insurance to help us, I saw instead it was our friends, friends of friends, and faith-based organizations that helped us get back on our feet. Using our own experiences as a start, I traveled to India and Japan to study how communities around the world survived and thrived during shocks. 


I wrote...

Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

By Daniel P. Aldrich,

Book cover of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

What is my book about?

Each year, shocks and disasters threaten communities worldwide. Yet responses to the challenges of recovery vary greatly and in ways that aren’t explained by the magnitude of the catastrophe or the amount of aid. The difference between resilience and disrepair lies in the depth of communities’ social capital. Building Resilience highlights the critical role of connections in the ability of a community to withstand disaster and rebuild both the infrastructure and the ties that are at the foundation of any community. Aldrich examines the post-disaster responses of four communities—Tokyo following the 1923 earthquake, Kobe after the 1995 earthquake, Tamil Nadu after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and New Orleans post-Katrina—and finds that those with robust social networks better-coordinated recovery.

The books I picked & why

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A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

By Rebecca Solnit,

Book cover of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Why this book?

We have all seen disaster movies and TV shows with people screaming and running around as the earthquake, tsunami, or Godzilla strikes. But Rebecca Solnit argues instead that normal people don’t panic during disasters – it is the elite, the wealthy, and the decision-makers who lose their minds. For normal people, altruism and mutual aid help all of us get through shocks, whether fire, car accident or COVID19. Her writing is excellent and she uses examples across time and space, ranging from the San Francisco earthquake at the start of the 20th century to the Mexico City earthquake at its end.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Paradise Built in Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years."
-Bill McKibben

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of…


Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

By Eric Klinenberg,

Book cover of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

Why this book?

This year, many states and cities in the US have been heat by deadly high temperatures, and this book is a “social autopsy” of a July 1995 heat wave in Chicago that killed more than 700 people. Why did these residents die, and not others? While the obvious answers are poverty and age, as many were older people living in poor communities who did not have air conditioning, that isn’t even half the story. Instead, Klinenberg uncovers how, for those residents who had strong social connections, those ties protected them by inviting them out of stiflingly hot homes into safer, cool spaces where they could survive. Rather than a function of what you have, survival in Chicago was a function of being connected.

Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

By Eric Klinenberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heat Wave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On Thursday, July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day on which the temperature would eventually climb to 106 degrees. It was the start of an unprecedented heat wave that would last a full week - and leave more than seven hundred people dead. Rather than view these deaths as the inevitable consequence of natural disaster, sociologist Eric Klinenberg decided to figure out why so many people - and, specifically, so many elderly, poor, and isolated people - died, and to identify the social and political failures that together made the heat wave so deadly. Published to coincide with…


Weathering Katrina: Culture and Recovery among Vietnamese Americans

By Mark J. VanLandingham,

Book cover of Weathering Katrina: Culture and Recovery among Vietnamese Americans

Why this book?

As someone who lived in New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, I often wondered why different communities bounced back from that terrible flooding. Mark van Landingham finds that, despite low levels of English fluency, education, and income, the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American community of Village De L’Est brought back more people and businesses than any other part of the city. Within a year they were back to 90% capacity of pre-Katrina levels. This community's residents – connected to each other through Catholicism and a shared language and history – worked collectively to help evacuees who had scattered across the country. Through collective action, they rebuilt their community even better, adding in new schools, medical centers, and even urban farms.

Weathering Katrina: Culture and Recovery among Vietnamese Americans

By Mark J. VanLandingham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weathering Katrina as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The principal Vietnamese-American enclave was a remote, low-income area that flooded badly. Many residents arrived decades earlier as refugees from the Vietnam War and were marginally fluent in English. Yet, despite these poor odds of success, the Vietnamese made a surprisingly strong comeback in the wake of the flood. In Weathering Katrina, public health scholar Mark VanLandingham analyzes their path to recovery, and examines the extent to which culture helped them cope during this crisis.


Contrasting his longitudinal survey data and qualitative interviews of Vietnamese residents with the work of other research teams,…


Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

By Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant,

Book cover of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Why this book?

Sheryl Sandberg movingly tells the story of losing her husband suddenly and having to continue with her family on her own. Grief seems a solitary process that we have to work through by ourselves. But she describes how her process of recovery required connections with friends, with family, and with institutions in her neighborhood. All of us have to deal with personal tragedies like the deaths of loved ones, and I appreciated how this book combined her sharing her personal experience with broader expertise from psychology and social science.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

By Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Option B as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Facebook's COO and Wharton's top-rated professor, the #1 New York Times best-selling authors of Lean In and Originals: a powerful, inspiring, and practical book about building resilience and moving forward after life's inevitable setbacks.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. "I was in 'the void,'" she writes, "a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe." Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to…


The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster

By Lawrence J. Vale (editor), Thomas J. Campanella (editor),

Book cover of The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster

Why this book?

We can all think of cities that have been hit by some horrible events – envision Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, hit by atomic weapons. Or the Oklahoma City bombing that leveled a whole block. Yet these cities not only survived, but thrived. In chapters written by different experts from around the world this book shows how resilient cities are to shocks and disasters. I especially liked the way that the authors focus on the way that we memorialize and remember the past, trying to learn lessons from shocks and bringing those emotions and learning into the present.

The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster

By Lawrence J. Vale (editor), Thomas J. Campanella (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Resilient City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For as long as they have existed, cities have been destroyed-sacked, shaken, burnt, bombed, flooded, starved, irradiated, and pillaged-in almost every case they have risen again. Rarely in modern times has a city not been rebuilt following destruction, be it natural or man-made. The Resilient City explores urban disasters from around the globe and the ongoing restoration of urban life. It examines why cities are rebuilt, how a vision for the future gets
incorporated into a new urban landscape, and how disasters have been interpreted and commemorated in built form. An international cast of historians, architects, and urban studies experts…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in disasters, Illinois, and Louisiana?

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