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Why New Orleans Matters

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  800 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
In the aftermath of Katrina and the disaster that followed, promises were made, forgotten, and renewed. Now what will become of New Orleans in the years ahead? What do this proud, battered city and its people mean to America and the world?

Award-winning author and longtime New Orleans resident Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 19th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published November 22nd 2005)
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Bob Redmond
Feb 04, 2009 Bob Redmond rated it really liked it
Music critic and novelist Piazza has written a sensitive, deeply sympathetic portrait of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. The first part of the short book tells of the character of the city, particularly through its festivals and events as experienced by Piazza (N.O. is his adopted home). The second, blistering, part tells of the emotional destruction of that character, again through a first-person eyewitness account.

Piazza makes his case well: New Orleans, which has contributed t
Nov 20, 2011 Vickie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For New Orleans residents, both past and present, the first third of Piazza's book is filled with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells (for better or for worse) of the city we love so much. It is rich and emotional, but at times repetitive. He waxes poetic about New Orleans, and it's like a free trip to all the wonderful places you see in your dreams.

Piazza then spends the second third of the book explaining how the true spirit of New Orleans was born from the efforts, struggles and mere daily
Oct 16, 2012 Alexandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having lived in New Orleans for two years, I learned very quickly that there's a certain je ne sais quoi about the place. Certain aspects of the Crescent City are beyond description. Despite the crime, the corruption, and the inconvenient (to say the least) location, something about New Orleans makes you fall deeply in love with it. To miss New Orleans is like missing an absent lover. It's like voodoo magic floats through the streets, working its way under your skin and inhabiting your soul. Thi ...more
Je suis monomaniaque. Tout ce qui touche à la Nouvelle Orléans... J'ai lu et vu pas mal de fiction sur la ville, dans la ville, pas loin de la ville... Pas mal de non-fiction aussi, en majorité sur la musique... Ah, la musique. Ou plutôt LES musiques. Je ne parle même pas de la cuisine, de ses mélanges, couleurs, sauces...

Mais jamais je n'avais lu une telle déclaration d'amour, inconditionnelle, entière, sans concession. À la Nouvelle Orléans, à son Âme, que nous ne pouvons que deviner à traver
I read this after hearing Guy Gonzalez mention it on Reading Lives, a Book Riot podcast. Gonzalez made me want to go on an irresponsible New Orleans reading tear--irresponsible because I have plenty of other books to read right now, and there's no good reason for New Orleans to leapfrog to the top of my TBR list. But I'm glad it did.

New Orleans is an amazing city, and Piazza makes a surprisingly fresh, humanist case for it. That might sound callous, but there's plenty of careless, lazy rhetoric
Dec 11, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book, in two parts. The first is an attempt by Piazza to capture the spirit, the soul of New Orleans in words. The second is about the aftereffects of Katrina. Both are interesting. And I have to say it is odd, perhaps, that I am not more enamored of New Orleans than I am. In a lot of ways, I am pursuing the mysticism that makes America what it is. There is a lot of that in New Orleans, I have to admit. Perhaps I need to make a road trip. Perhaps. Anyway, what drew me to t ...more
Jul 29, 2011 Tara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book immensely. The author paints a beautiful, sad, and poignant portrait of life in New Orleans, pre and post-Katrina, and makes the reader understand the value of the city of New Orleans. At one point, I had to take a break from reading because it was so heartbreaking to think of the turmoil that so many people lived through, (and are still going through in some cases) losing their homes and culture, possessions, pets and friends. My heart aches at the losses but still I smiled at ...more
John Brissette
The book I've been looking for for years....

I rarely give a book 5 stars. 4, often, but 5 is for those life changing/affirming pieces that are rare. I wish I could give this book 6. As a "Creole" (a term of some ambiguity) who wasn't born or raised in NOLA but had family in Louisiana, NOLA has always been a cultural touchstone. A "Mecca or Jerusalem" for me, living in a place where no one understood (in fact berated) my culture. I first went as an adult in 2000 & discovered that there was in
Ashley Bergman Carlin
This ended up being a wonderful book. First written as a love letter to the city post-Katrina as well as a plea for the world to step up and take care of the ailing and devastated city back when no one had decided what was to be done with New Orleans but many had ideas. Piazza was primarily concerned that the city would be rebranded and rebuilt as a Las Vegas of the South. Of course, this was a more effective plea back in 2005 when no one knew what was going to happen.

Piazza adds an afterword t
Carol Kowalski
May 05, 2015 Carol Kowalski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tom Piazza's beautiful, warm, respectful book will move New Orleans mavens and first-time visitors alike. Written in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, the author is at once objective and hopelessly and infinitely in love with his adopted city, and will make the reader love it even more deeply than when you first opened the book. Late in 2014 an amendment failed that would have allowed abandoned properties in the lower 9th ward to be sold for as little as $100 each to jump start redevelopmen ...more
Amy Goalen
Jan 31, 2016 Amy Goalen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! I'm fascinated and enchanted with the Crescent City and my heart broke when Katrina did the damage it did in 2005.

I absolutely loved reading about NOLA pre Katrina from Tom's perspective. He's originally from NY and described falling in love with New Orleans as an outsider who embraced all the many facets of the city, the neighborhoods, the people, the food, but most of all the music.

His account of New Orleans post Katrina broke my heart all over again as he described coming b
Ray Lang
Apr 24, 2010 Ray Lang rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A treacly, maudlin travelogue, and in some parts insulting to native New Orleanians (this one, anyway).
Jan 26, 2014 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although it reads as if Tom has ADD, this is a phenomenal book. I was fortunate enough to have travelled there in 2012 and help the Mardi Gras Indians preserve some of their culture. The places and some of the people I was also able to meet whom he mentions in the book. Recollecting the city, the music, the people, the architecture, the shopping, the cuisine, the art, and many other things I experienced there came all rushing back. Wake up America, New Orleans still needs our help. Looking forwa ...more
Brad McKenna
Apr 05, 2015 Brad McKenna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Written by a NOLA native in the months immediately follow Katrina, this book has renewed my love for New Orleans.

I'll admit that I was one of the people that said, it would be stupid to rebuild New Orleans. I love the culture but in the battle between man and nature, the latter has a way of coming out on top. Mr. Piazza pointed out that ALL cities are hard at work keeping nature at bay. Think of trees and grass, without lawn care they too would overrun a city. It's not New Orleans fault that th
Read the STOP SMILING interview with author Tom Piazza

Setting the Tempo: TOM PIAZZA
By JC Gabel

(This interview originally appeared in the STOP SMILING Ode to the South Issue)

Tom Piazza grew up on Long Island, New York, but has lived in New Orleans for the last 14 years. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, as well as an ardent jazz fan and historian, Piazza fell in love with the Crescent City, which spawned not only jazz itself, but also some of the most unforgettable works of American liter
Aug 29, 2008 Monica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up Tom Piazza's book "Why New Orleans Matters" a few weeks ago, but couldn't read it until now. I can't read anything about Hurricane Katrina without feeling it in the pit of my stomach and, well, I've been depressed enough lately. However, I brought the book to court the other day for the time spent waiting in line, and there I was, standing in line at the clerk's office, overwhelmed again at the beauty and the sadness and the joy of life that is New Orleans, and remembering why that c ...more
Phillip Welshans
Aug 22, 2011 Phillip Welshans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very quick read, if for no other reason than the entire book, including introduction, is fewer than 200 pages long. I saw this book in a great bookshop while on vacation in New Orleans and tracked it down when we got back to Baltimore. I took it with me this weekend when I flew up to Boston and back and easily got through it thanks in no small part to a 3 hour delay coming back to Baltimore.

The book is well-written and is generally a meditation on New Orleans culture. It's broken up into two
May 05, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Naturally, I picked this book up to read while being swallowed whole on my first trip to "The River Region," which clearly no one calls it, but is written inexplicably on the airport sign. The Crescent City, The Big Easy, The City That Will Never Drown. Not if the people of New Orleans, Tom Piazza included, have anything to say about it. Piazza's passionate, knee-jerk reaction of a book, written just weeks after Katrina, is split into two halves: first, snapshots of what makes NOLA unique and ir ...more
Apr 02, 2008 Jen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Before going to Jamaica, I read two books that greatly amplified my experience there: Catch a Fire; the Life of Bob Marley and The History of the Jamaican People. (Yeah, I know, there’s something obliquely offensive about the title, but the content was good.) This travel time, before going to New Orleans, I’m reading Why New Orleans Matters and one other book that I will only admit to in person, but not in writing on the Internet. Piazza’s book, which is really just a travel memoir, (even though ...more
Chris Stanford
I came to this book via a recommendation on the New Orleans Times-Picayune's excellent blog about the HBO series "Treme." I suspect one's appreciation of the book will be directly proportional to one's appreciation of the city. The author's passion for his adopted hometown is clearly evident, although Piazza's lists of the restaurants and musicians he loves is unlikely to inspire the uninitiated. To his credit, Piazza doesn't romanticize New Orleans, exploring, if briefly, the complicated city's ...more
Jun 04, 2011 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an outsider but one who has visited New Orleans seven or eight times, including three trips since Katrina, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the perspective of one who was experienced many of New Orleans charms but had no real insight as to the people and culture of the city. Of course, I knew the history book version of New Orleans, but Mr. Piazza takes you on a behind-the-scenes look at what makes up the fiber of the city. I appreciate Mr. Piazza's passion for his city; I love New Orleans ...more
Apr 05, 2016 Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
New Orleans. If you've been there, you know. The music, the food, the spirit. There is no place on earth remotely like it. And Katrina nearly washed it away. Tom Piazza, like many New Orleanians, a transplant who came to visit and never left, writes about what makes the Crescent City so unique and writes about all of the forces that threaten its very existence. Equal parts love letter and cautionary tale, anyone who lives the city should read it.
May 19, 2010 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
...Because it's awesome!

Tom Piazaa could have just settled on the above statement but I'm not gonna complain about his elaboration!

Written shortly after Hurricane Katrina, 'Why New Orleans Matters' is one of those super nostalgic glimpses into this little world in which New Orleanians are lucky enough to reside.

Piazza spends the first part of the book giving a beginners explanation to everything that is New Orleans, from hole in the wall gourmet restaurants to impromptu second-lines.

The second
Stacy Hower
Sep 10, 2015 Stacy Hower rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick read & a heartfelt and very personal view of Nola by the author portraying the city's unique and intriguing personality. He brilliantly answers "Why New Orleans Matters" in the afterword, which makes it seem like an afterthought to what is supposed to be the key question of the book. So that was odd. But I otherwise really enjoyed it! Found myself looking up images and videos of the events and characters to see what he was describing.
Diann Blakely
As a writer of both books and music criticism—perhaps most impressively for the OXFORD AMERICAN during its genuinely Oxford years—Tom Piazza has amassed an imposing body of work, and his new novel promises to be his strongest. Piazza's best-known nonfiction volume, WHY NEW ORLEANS MATTERS, is a heartwrenching cry for the restoration of his adopted hometown, but CITY OF REFUGE, having had more time to settle and fester, is a must-read for anyone with who has ever passed through the Big Easy and e ...more
Mar 28, 2015 Jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're one of the many who has fallen under New Orleans' spell, this is a wonderful read. Piazza captures the spirit of the city beautifully; the good along with the bad. It has a little bit of everything - history, culture, food, geography, and politics, but Of course you need a little bit of everything to try to capture such a complex place.
The best paragraph by far of the book:
"At one point, early on, some public figures even asked whether it 'made sense' to rebuild New Orleans. Would you let your own mother die because it didn't make financial sense to spend the money to treat her, or because you were too busy to spend the time to heal her sick spirit? Among people who are able to think only in terms of dollars and cents, for whom everything is reckoned in terms of winner and loser, profit or more profit, of course it doesn't 'ma
May 31, 2011 Blake rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked Tom Piazza's novel, My Cold War, and this non-fiction book was good, too. Why does New Orleans matter? According to Piazza, it's not anything obviously economic or practical--rather, it's the spirit of the place, the way it offers a way of life and an attitude you can't find elsewhere in the country.

I cried reading about the things about New Orleans that I could identify with--his description of his girlfriend's apartment when they returned after Katrina, his description of his f
Oct 22, 2011 Faith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nola-love
Tom Piazza should win an award for description. Not only does he show you what it's like to be in a second line or experiencing Mardi Gras, he also has a fantastic way of illustrating the thoughts and emotions of the moment.

Why New Orleans Matters was written five weeks after Katrina, and though it's been over six years now, his voice reminds us of the very real fear at that time that New Orleans might not come back. It's a passionate book and Piazza makes you feel the desperation of being a lo
Jennifer Sherwood
Jul 20, 2010 Jennifer Sherwood rated it it was amazing
This is a collection from an author that had a long-standing love affair with the city of New Orleans and choose to relocate there. It tells of his experiences and observations during the aftermath of Katrina and in the process, he shares more about the city, its culture, its inhabitants, and its history. I thought that book was amazing because of the impassioned case that that author makes as to why New Orleans matters. You can't help but walk away impressed by his love for his adopted city. Th ...more
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“At one point, early on, some public figures even asked whether it 'made sense' to rebuild New Orleans. Would you let your own mother die because it didn't make financial sense to spend the money to treat her, or because you were too busy to spend the time to heal her sick spirit?” 17 likes
“Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, once told me that when a brass band plays at a small club back up in one of the neighborhoods, it's as if the audience--dancing, singing to the refrains, laughing--is part of the band. They are two parts of the same thing. The dancers interpret, or it might be better to say literally embody, the sounds of the band, answering the instruments. Since everyone is listening to different parts of the music--she to the trumpet melody, he to the bass drum, she to the trombone--the audience is a working model in three dimensions of the music, a synesthesic transformation of materials. And of course the band is also watching the dancers, and getting ideas from the dancers' gestures. The relationship between band and audience is in that sense like the relationship between two lovers making love, where cause and effect becomes very hard to see, even impossible to call by its right name; one is literally getting down, as in particle physics, to some root stratum where one is freed from the lockstop of time itself, where time might even run backward, or sideways, and something eternal and transcendent is accessed.” 13 likes
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