The best disaster books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about disasters and why they recommend each book.

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Against the Day

By Thomas Pynchon,

Book cover of Against the Day

Pynchon’s Against the Day stages a form of pantheism in which everything bears some form of consciousness, which, like nature, has no border. Cyprian considers that “the earth [might be] alive, with a planet-shaped consciousness”; and it is “as if silver were alive, with a soul and a voice.” Pynchon’s characters live in a pantheistic universe in which everything is part of nature and alive—where the wind tries to wake them and the world has a consciousness. Pynchon updates Melville in Mardi, in which, e.g., a character asks, “Think you there is no sensation in being a tree? Think you it is nothing to be a world? [The world of] Mardi is alive to its axis.” In ATD, “the steel webwork was a living organism”; even an “egg yolk [can be] perhaps regarded as a conscious entity.” Consciousness can’t be confined to people: all entities have the potential…


Who am I?

I received my Ph.D. and J.D. at Berkeley, and my next book Your Call is Very Important to Us: Advertising and the Corporate Theft of Personhood, is forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield. My research into literary and legal history made me fascinated with how people project hopes and fears onto the social construct of nature. How does one explain the contradictory ways white men imagined they could transcend painful isolation by merging into a nature coded as non-white and female? These fantasies play out in popular culture, e.g. in Avatar, in which men seek the unobtanium they lack: a nature that was always lost/a retroactively-constructed fantasy, and a cover for what it seemed to oppose—finally the corporation.


I wrote...

Not Altogether Human: Pantheism and the Dark Nature of the American Renaissance

By Richard Hardack,

Book cover of Not Altogether Human: Pantheism and the Dark Nature of the American Renaissance

What is my book about?

A surprising number of nineteenth-century American thinkers were pantheists: they believed that God inheres in all things, and that men could achieve a sense of belonging they lacked in society by seeking oneness with nature. However, writers such as Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville conceived of nature as everything "Other"―other than their white male Protestant culture. This male conception of nature became racialized, and the divine became associated with African American and Native American identities, as well as with femininity—the Other or “not-me” of these writers, and a repository of all they lacked. My aim was to reinterpret familiar texts through a lens, that of pantheism, that is unfamiliar to most readers, but helps provide context for how strange but still relevant these writers are.

The Death of Grass

By John Christopher,

Book cover of The Death of Grass

Every now and then, we need a reality check; we need to remind ourselves that we are very much dependent on events over which we have no control and that a small event may end up causing our view of our self-important world to crumble. The Chung-Li virus that starts everything in this hauntingly realistic novel teaches us how insignificant we are compared to the forces that govern events on this planet. I felt much humbler after reading this book, and in a good way.


Who am I?

As an author who is also a patent attorney and an engineer, I often deal with projects that are the closest thing to science fiction. That is one of the driving forces behind my urge to write science fiction. However, I very much prefer realistic stories that may potentially come true to hard science fiction with intergalactic travel, robots all over, and time machines (although I have written space opera and a few other hardcore SF tales, and must admit having had fun with them). Still, I like realistic science fiction much more. It leaves more room for character development, and I find myself engrossed in it more easily.


I wrote...

Chipless

By Kfir Luzzatto,

Book cover of Chipless

What is my book about?

The chip in your brain is the source of your happiness and the key to your health. It guides you, it looks after you...and it turns you into a complacent slave.

When Kal, a young scientist, accidentally discovers how the chip is playing with his mind, his life is in danger. Amber is a chipless girl from afar with a problem of her own. They flee the city together. Amber is more important to the city rulers than Kal imagines. They must reach a safe destination, but time is running out for Kal. If they fail to get there in time, both his life and the hope of fighting the city tyrants will be lost.

Everything in Its Path

By Kai T. Erikson,

Book cover of Everything in Its Path

This classic award-winning book is a must-read for anyone interested in traumatic events. Sociologist Kai Erikson was the first to equate a major disaster with individual and community upheaval, based on the 1976 Buffalo Creek dam flood. He details how this event traumatized individuals and caused a breakdown of community relationships and a rise in crime, unethical behavior, and major out-migration. Many of the emotional and social effects of disasters had not been discussed or treated when this book was written. Much has been learned since. However, Erikson stresses that many of the psychological and sociological problems continue to exist when calamities occur today and must be resolved. 


Who am I?

Sometimes you need to search for the next roads to take in your life; other times these roads approach you. I was looking for new ways to use my long-term communication and mental health advocacy skills and then, sadly, the Sandy Hook shooting occurred. I immediately wanted to help community members ease their pain and assist cities nationwide to greatly improve their disaster mental health response. I never expected a pandemic would arrive only two months after I published, making my book all the more important. Now climate change is exacerbating our already stressful times, and we must act to stem mental health issues before they become out of hand.  


I wrote...

Disaster Mental Health Community Planning: A Manual for Trauma-Informed Collaboration

By Robert W. Schmidt, Sharon L. Cohen,

Book cover of Disaster Mental Health Community Planning: A Manual for Trauma-Informed Collaboration

What is my book about?

In 2012, tragedy hit my Newtown, Connecticut community with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. We weren’t prepared for this traumatic event’s long-term emotional impact. Many still suffer. Newtown isn’t alone. Most communities have a plan for “medical” emergency response but not for “mental health” disaster response. About 25% of those impacted, especially the most vulnerable, will suffer PTSD within six weeks if not receiving trauma-informed care. The trauma ripple moves from survivors, to first responders, and the entire community and causes depression, anxiety, relationship discord, substance abuse, and suicide. Traumatic events include violence, natural disasters, pandemics, climate change, and societal instability—all facing us today. This book’s roadmap details the ways communities can help individuals emotionally prepare for and respond to traumatic events.    

A Paradise Built in Hell

By Rebecca Solnit,

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

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favorite thinkers. In this book, she discusses how utopian communities often come about in response to disaster and explains as well as anything I’ve read how activist communities are forged. She does this by showing how natural or manmade disasters can bring out the best in people when social and economic boundaries become less important than helping one another survive. Using examples ranging from the San Francisco and Mexico City earthquakes to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, she demonstrates that when disparate individuals discover a shared and larger purpose, even the most terrible circumstances can create joy. 


Who am I?

I’m a nice gay Jewish former wannabe actor turned AIDS activist. I joined ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, in 1987, and for the next eight years, I chaired committees, planned protests, led teach-ins, and facilitated our weekly meetings. I visited friends in hospitals, attended far too many AIDS memorials, participated in over a hundred zaps and demonstrations, and earned the title of ACT UP’s unofficial “Chant Queen.” It was the hardest, most intense, most rewarding, most joyous, and most devastating time of my life. Aware that I had witnessed history, it became my mission to record what happened and to make sure our story was not forgotten. 


I wrote...

Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

By Ron Goldberg,

Book cover of Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

What is my book about?

Boy with the Bullhorn is an immersive, chronological history of the New York chapter of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and a memoir of my coming of age and activist education during the darkest years of the AIDS epidemic. Told with great heart and surprising humor, it offers an intimate look into ACT UP's tactics and strategies as we successfully battled politicians, researchers, drug companies, religious leaders, the media, and an often-uncaring public to change the course of the AIDS epidemic. Combining personal accounts with diligent documentation, it captures the spirit of ACT UP and the adrenaline rush of activism―the anger and grief, but also the love, joy, and camaraderie.

Shadowed Ground

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Book cover of Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy

Foote’s book engages the biographies of some battlefields, but I also list it because it goes beyond to include in his examination of the historic landscape sites of natural disasters, murder sites, and sites of terrorism. I find most helpful Foote’s categories: sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration. A marvelous, distinctive book.


Who am I?

I remember well my first visit to Gettysburg on a high school trip. I had trouble expressing what I felt until I read the words of a battlefield guide who said that he often sensed a “brooding omnipresence.” I have often felt such presences across the historic landscape in the U.S. and elsewhere. I am now Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, and former editor of the Journal Of American History. I have also written Preserving Memory: The Struggle To Create America’s Holocaust Museum; The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City In American Memory, and co-edited American Sacred Space; History Wars: The Enola Gay And Other Battles For The American Past; and Landscapes Of 9/11: A Photographer’s Journey.


I wrote...

Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

By Edward T. Linenthal,

Book cover of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

What is my book about?

This book is about processes of veneration, defilement, and redefinition at Lexington and Concord, the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Little Bighorn, and Pearl Harbor. These “biographies” help us appreciate these sites as both ceremonial centers and civil spaces where Americans of various ideological persuasions come to struggle over the nature of heroism, the meaning of war, the significance of martial sacrifice, and the importance of preserving and expanding the patriotic landscape.

This second edition contains a 30-page epilogue that offers updated material—as of 1993--on each site, perhaps most significantly a detailed account of the 50th anniversary ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Seveneves

By Neal Stephenson,

Book cover of Seveneves

This is an intriguing foray into the potential evolution of our own species into many sub-species. We are taken on a journey of evolutionary discovery. I was absorbed in understanding the characteristics of the sub-species Neal Stephenson wove into the story. Whilst very different, in terms of exploring evolutionary offshoots of our own species, Seveneves reminded me of HG Wells’ The Time Machine.


Who am I?

I’m fascinated by both evolution and sentience. The debates ranging about them, endless research, personal suppositions, all of it. I view Sci-Fi written in the same vein as the works below as a means for scientists/writers to draft their own thoughts about evolution and sentience, almost philosophically and not wholly restrained by pieces of information (just or far) beyond our grasp. My own writing often focuses on both topics too, especially the standalone Siouca Remembers – in which two species, one just having evolved to sentience, intermingle for the first time. Amongst many other books, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, is a wonderful non-fiction complement to this.


I wrote...

Siouca Remembers

By James Murdo,

Book cover of Siouca Remembers

What is my book about?

“The quest to unlock the secrets of interstellar travel leads a Roranian crew on an epic journey across space. Saved by a dying machine-lect, stranded in a failing ship, faced with an ultimate choice. Were they too eager in their attempts to reach the stars?” If you enjoy Space Opera, and authors such as Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds and Dan Simmons, then Siouca Remembers is for you.

"An epic sci-fi fantasy!… intricate tales begin to mesh to create a final outcome that is fantastic and startling! Very well written!" – Bookbub reviewer

Weather

By Jenny Offill,

Book cover of Weather

If you don’t have much time to read, this is the one for you. Offill is known for her brevity - her 2014 novel Dept. Of Speculation (equally worth your time) is similarly short, and similarly shot through with humor - and for the punch she can pack into a limited space. In Weather, she brings together the mundane grind of daily life with the larger existential terror many of us experience when we think about climate change, and bridges that gap, forcing her characters to confront how their daily lives are in fact not separate from these bigger concepts at all.


Who am I?

I have always felt most at home looking out a window. I should specify I’m not an outdoorsy person - take me hiking and I will simply collapse - but I’m at my happiest when there’s a view out to something green. Reading about the climate and reading fiction that centers landscape both offer me that view, and while I’m not an expert in the particulars of climate change, I am an expert in this: finding books that connect me to the natural world, and books that express the grief of always being a little bit separate from it. The selected books are some of my favorites.


I wrote...

Wilder Girls

By Rory Power,

Book cover of Wilder Girls

What is my book about?

It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.

It started slow. First, the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence.

Tribe

By Sebastian Junger,

Book cover of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

In my ongoing interest and research into the nuances and issues surrounding war throughout history and the modern age, it wasn’t long before I discovered Sebastian Junger’s work. His award-winning documentaries Restrepo and Korengal are honest, visceral forays into his time embedded with an American infantry unit in Afghanistan. He’s a well-respected journalist with a thoughtful, compassionate eye for the complexities of combat. I chose Tribe for its unique contemplation – supported by anthropological and sociological studies – about the problem many veterans face reintegrating into society after their deployments.

Rather than taking up the common point-of-view that there is something “wrong” with the vets, he posits that it is modern society that is the actual fundamental problem, that it is society’s broken systems and lack of community thinking, its separation from the lives of warriors that compound and exacerbate any sort of short-term trauma military veterans experience. This is…


Who am I?

Long before I wrote and published my first novel, Warchild, I possessed a deep interest in war, or more accurately, the experiences of those involved in it. I became most interested in first-hand accounts – particularly letters and journals by those on the frontlines. Perhaps it was because I was fortunate enough never to have war touch my life; perhaps it was because, as photojournalist Sebastian Junger says, “War is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of.” As a young girl growing up in a safe suburb the complexities and high stakes of the experience of war became fertile ground for investigating and interrogating the deepest parts of our shared humanity.


I wrote...

Warchild

By Karin Lowachee,

Book cover of Warchild

What is my book about?

The personal account of a young boy's coming of age amid interstellar war, where both friends and enemies aren’t quite what they seem, and learning to trust is an act of courage.

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