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

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  463 ratings  ·  51 reviews
On Thursday, July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day in which the temperature would reach 106 degrees. The heat index, which measures how the temperature actually feels on the body, would hit 126 degrees by the time the day was over. Meteorologists had been warning residents about a two-day heat wave, but these temperatures did not end that soon. When the heat ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 12th 2002 by University Of Chicago Press
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Lorianne DiSabato
The story of the deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave is fascinating enough, but don't expect Eric Klinenberg's book to be a popularly-accessible page-turner. Klinenberg's book was written as a dissertation in sociology, so its methodology and supporting evidence are sound, but it seems to have been revised only minimally (if at all) for a lay audience.

The upshot of Klinenberg's analysis of what led to so many deaths in Chicago in July, 1995 is that living along leads to dying alone, as getting out of
Sep 17, 2013 molly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Davis Farnham
Shelves: epi-nerd, chicago, history
Of course, I have an obligatory heat wave story- I was 9 and spent the worst of it in my dad's North Side apartment without power or AC. We took turns taking cold baths. I was too hot to even read. That's how you know it's bad.

Despite the fact that I was there, I never realized what a public health disaster this heat wave (and other previous and subsequent ones) was for Chicago until this book was assigned to me in grad school. A quick survey of Chicagoan friends and family found that not a sing
Klinenberg has some incredibly smart stuff to say about heat waves - natural disasters that generally cost more lives than any other kind (tsunamis aside, I presume), and yet which are routinely ignored when people think about the challenge of responding to such a public health crisis. There are reasons - not of them especially good - why people don't think of heatwaves in the same way they think of earthquakes or tornadoes: they don't leave carnage behind; there are no dramatic pictures to acco ...more
Carolyn Leshyn
Klinenberg has completed an extensive examination of the 1995 heat wave in Chicago by looking into the social and cultural conditions, the political ramifications and tne institutional aspects of the disaster.

The many deaths were mainly the old and the poor, living alone, who endured a culture of fear (fear of criminal activity in their area) and lack of safe public spaces. These individuals died alone, unprotected and uncared for. All these conditions formed this disaster.

The areas with the lea
When you think about disasters that caused a whole bunch of deaths in one swoop in the US in the last 25 or 30 years (outside of a war), you probably think about the September 11 attacks, which killed 2,977 in the US. If I were to ask you what the next biggest disaster in terms of deaths, you’d probably also get it right: Hurricane Katrina and its 1,833 deaths. But do you know what caused the third greatest number of deaths in the past 25 years?

Surprisingly (to me, at least) it was the 1995 Chic
Kyle Bell
Klinenberg meticulously documents the travesty that was the Chicago heat wave of 1995. The heat wave exposed the significant weaknesses of the service delivery methods of the Chicago municipal government. Heat Wave exposes the systematic breakdown of local government at multiple levels in Chicago. Mid-level bureaucrats failed to communicate across departments. The mayor and his administration refused to even acknowledge the rising death toll. Indeed, the city failed to even implement its own eme ...more
A mixture of sociology, epidemiology, and personal anecdotes of those who survived or died during a heat wave in a modern US city. Very moving, and does an excellent job of convincing the reader that social isolation and a lack of support for vulnerable populations (most particularly, the elderly poor) kill.
This book is a good companion to County. The missed opportunities, the blatant lies from City Hall and other main actors, the high death toll, it was too much at times and I wanted to throw the book and scream.

It is fascinating to read this 20 years after the Chicago heat wave of July 1995 that killed nearly 800 people. I am a social worker now, and I am aware of many changes that have happened in the "aging network" of people who work with marginalized older adults in the city (including people
A powerful assessment of the 1995 deadly heat wave that killed over 700 elderly, poor, and ethnoracial in urban Chicago. Klinenberg delves into the depths of the communities hit, their struggle with crime and poverty; the government non-role as it does not set off alarms until the body count accelerates; the media coverage and how it choose to not report information unless it sold a paper; and the changes government made because of the heat wave. However government still lacks in properly dealin ...more
I'll concede that the content has value; it was interesting and eye-opening and appropriately infuriating. I sincerely respect the author's years of effort and the comprehensive research invested into this book. Klinenberg's dedication to the subject is obvious, and I admire it.

However, his writing style was horrific: he was perpetually long-winded and unbelievably prone to redundancy, not qualities I'm searching for in nonfiction. He has no notion of conciseness—he could have conveyed all of t
I decided to write a paper on social and political dysfunction before, during, and after natural disasters. This was a perfect book to help me in my research, so I used the 1995 heat wave as my case study for my paper.

This book was very interesting, and it shed light on the dysfunction that is rampant in urban America that leads to tragedies like the Chicago heat wave, or Katrina. The poor, the elderly, and the isolated are forgotten about in society which directly contributes to their demise du
a very interesting look into the 1995 heat wave in Chicago in 1995 that killed more than 700. he goes through the social causes for their deaths, including neighborhood characteristics, city response, and media response. most of the folks who died were poor male seniors living alone & isolated lives. the most interesting part for me, besides learning who's most at risk for heat-related deaths & the societal trends that have led more seniors to be living alone & cut off from support s ...more
July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day in which the temperature would reach 106 degrees. The heat index, which measures how the temperature actually feels on the body, would hit 126 degrees by the time the day was over. Meteorologists had been warning residents about a two-day heat wave, but these temperatures did not end that soon. When the heat wave broke a week later, city streets had buckled; the records for electrical use were shattered; and power grids had failed, leaving resi ...more
Fascinating and heartbreaking. I moved to Chicago the year after this happened, so most of the story was new to me. I was not aware of the severity or the high number of fatalities. Essential reading for Chicago and urban studies.

That said, it's very much a sociology text and not narrative non-fiction. So it can be very dry and repetitive as the thesis and back-up statements are made at the beginning, then fleshed out a little more in the supporting chapters. You could read the opening and stil
As his title indicates, Klinenberg employs more than the typical tools of sociology—ethnographic fieldwork, participation observation, interviews, archival research, mapping, and statistical analysis (13)—to retroactively explore the 1995 heat wave that took more than 700 lives from Chicago's most vulnerable. Just as a medical autopsy is performed in order to determine the physiological cause of death, Klinenberg argues that a social autopsy of the heat wave similarly views the city of Chicago a ...more
Tornado Quest
Overall, I'd have to say this is a good read. Many reviews are quite upset or disappointed with the author and the writing style. If you're into social sciences, this will be up your alley. As for me, I'm much less interested in the social disaster that resulted from the heat wave and more interested in the meteorological factors of this particular event. Heat waves are known by atmospheric scientists as the silent killer...and for good reason. They don't get the drama and ratings that more visu ...more
My first summer in Chicago -- 1995 -- a heat wave killed 700 people, nearly 50 of whom went unidentified and were buried in a mass grave. That number has haunted me ever since. How could 50 people in one city be so cut off from family or friends that no one missed them when they died? Klinenberg's book has some answers. He examines the social isolation, institutionalized racism, and underfunded services that led to the deaths of hundreds of people that summer. He also makes a pilgrimage to the m ...more
Joanne Stevenson
Absolutely brilliant piece of research and writing. This book has been such an inspiration for me as a researcher and communicator.
Oct 06, 2007 Bridget rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: socialscience
I think this was Klineberg's dissertation from Berkeley, but don't let the academic aspect turn you off from this one. It's a case study of the heat wave epidemic that hit Chicago in 1995, ultimately killing over 700 people. Klineberg explores the reasons why, contrasting this heat wave against another in the city decades earlier that killed almost no one. He ends up talking a lot about how social conditions and social relationships have changed (allowing so many people to die home alone during ...more
Klinenberg does an amazing job of examining many of the causes of the horrific death toll from the Chicago heatwave. Social epidemiology, if you will. I found if fascinating.
We read this book so we could understand the dysfunction that is the city of Chicago so that we could better understand the dysfunction of its school system. Found it very "1984" that after hundreds had died in this heat wave many started to doubt that it ever happen. Word was put out that the death toll was exaggerated. It's as if from one day to the next they forgot the refrigerated trucks outside the Cook County Medical Examiners office were really there to take the overflow of bodies. And wh ...more
Julie Murphy
This is a very dense book but if sociology is of interest to you, it is worth the time.
Not without flaws but an innovative idea
Jan 03, 2009 Tracy rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: International Olympic Committee
Recommended to Tracy by: Kari
The social scientist approach makes for dry reading about a serious tragedy, one of the worst disasters in the 1990s. Because the heat wave victims were the poor, elderly, and friendless, this calamity is little remembered for the true policy failure that it was. The fact that Mayor Daley, who presided over this preventable disaster, is now lobbying for the Olympics is astonishing - especially since it's been a little over a year since he proved how inept he is at hosting public sporting events ...more
Lauren orso
without a doubt the best book about a heat wave i've ever read.

no but seriously folks, a sociologist's take on the perfect storm-heat wave that killed over 750 people, mostly minorities and the elderly, and how the city's public safety and health failures combined with changing urban demographics, public policy, and even journalism to allow and hide HOW THIS HAPPENED in 1995.

i think the book was written in 2000, it would be interesting to see a rewrite/new intro considering the big freak weathe
I remember this heat wave, suffering, with a friend. We were riding bikes, and I said something about the heat wave killing people, implying we could be next. My friend said, those people were trapped inside. We were safe. This book is about the people trapped inside. Social Autopsy is an accurate description of what happened-- why so many people died, which neighborhoods had the highest mortality, how the city responded to the crisis and minimized the deaths.
The length of time I took to read this is not a reflection of my thoughts on its quality (it got lost in my apartment for a while). Although it is a bit dense and academic, this is exactly the kind of writing I'd like to see more of in the planning field. It's rigorous, thoughtful, well researched (through primary and secondary sources) and concludes with a strong policy-based agenda. It was also great to read this while riding around Chicago's South Side.
Stunning, insightful, and shows how the reaches of government have so much potential to do right, and can fail their residents so brutally, both in normal times and under extraordinary circumstances. Unpacks the communication strategies of politicians in powerful ways, as well as showing the biases of the media. Most importantly, it shows the importance of institutions equitably investing in neighborhoods and the importance of building community.
Sunny Moraine
Interesting. Apparently methodologically controversial, at least where a couple people are concerned, though I have yet to read the articles. The examinations of death rates by age, race, socioeconomic status, and geographical location are extremely compelling, but when Eric gets political he gets a little ranty and I understand the POV of the people who claim he's working off certain biases. Still, good read. Recommended.
Sherry Schwabacher
Interesting topic, but reads like a dissertation for the first few chapters. Then he really makes you think about how these "natural" disasters are framed in public debate by government entities, who are engaged in CYA, and media, which thrives on controversy and human interest. Because of these often complementary interests, the deeper, more complex issues are rarely voiced in public forums.

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Eric Klinenberg is Professor of Sociology; Public Policy; and Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University. He is the author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (The Penguin Press, 2012), Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media (Metropolitan Books, 2007), and Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chica ...more
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