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Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City
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Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  96 Ratings  ·  13 Reviews
“Post-Katrina New Orleans hasn't been an easy place to live, it hasn't been an easy place to be in love, it hasn't been an easy place to take care of yourself or see the bright side of things.” So reflects Billy Sothern in this riveting and unforgettable insider's chronicle of the epic 2005 disaster and the year that followed. Sothern, a death penalty lawyer who with his w ...more
Hardcover, 348 pages
Published August 27th 2007 by University of California Press (first published July 28th 2007)
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Feb 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was probably more of a 3.5, but I really appreciated the perspective -- the author and his wife lived in New Orleans during Katrina and went back afterward to fix up their home and reestablish themselves there. The book does some good work in explaining how many of the problems in New Orleans' flooded neighborhoods existed before the flood, even if Sothern's own anti-Republican sentiments are pretty clear (and frankly at this point I can't really blame him). It was incredibly disheartening ...more
Linda Lipko
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
I found this book to be too biased in blaming the government for the woes of those left behind. While certainly, there is enough blame to go around, the lack of emphasis on personal responsibility was troubling to me.

Yes, in my opinion, the government did have a responsibility to help, but the flip side is that the government had helped many of the people of poverty for years by making them helpless and dependent. The government is at fault because they extended such a helping hand that there w
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Hurricane Katrina buffs and New Orleans devotees
written by a lawyer who defends death-row inmates in Louisiana, this is another compulsive read. Hurricane Katrina just laid bare what was already happening in New Orleans and the federal government. Tremendous poverty, almost third world-like, in the south; racism and real estate segregation; a totally inadequate federal response to the disaster -- the product of republican efforts to shrink government to the point where it can't function in crises; news stories of armed and roving "black loote ...more
Andrea V.
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book of essays about New Orleans was written by my cousin Billy, an attorney who helps impoverished people facing the death penalty get a fair trial. He describes the impact of the hurricane on his city, the poorest residents, and his own life. Both the personal stories and the city history are moving and fascinating.

Learn more about his work here and here

Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Along with Jed Horne's magnificent "Breach of Faith," Billy Southern's "Down in New Orleans" is a must read for anyone who wants a book to read about the events that followed the levee failures in New Orleans, post-Katrina. A passionate account of survival, this book is particularly moving by virtue of its perspective on the horrifically flawed justice system in Louisiana. A must read.
Mar 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This guy describes the city post-Katrina in a caring, comprehensive way. His love for the city shows in the thoughtful way he presents the sad events and his ideas about what to do to make New Orleans a dynamic city again.
Apr 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: info-bios
This was a great book about the struggles before, during, and after Katrina. The range of stories shows how the storm touched many different people. It is clear that the author loves New Orleans and has hope for its future.
Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Uniquly accurate..while maintaining a witty and ..however there can be, enjoyable way to read Mr. Southern's evacuation from the hurrican, and the experiences he encountered. Not a delightful subject..yet a delightful author and book. Great phoyographs by Nikki Page.
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Very good, very depressing. Sothern writes lean prose and doesn't get caught up in self-pity, and the end result is an unexpectedly touching love letter to New Orleans.
Carol Brusegar
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stunning account of New Orleans during and in the year or so after Hurricane Katrina. It includes historical background and parts of the ethnic history of New Orleans I had not been aware of previously.
Sep 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
Let me first say that I had high hopes for this book. I had read Eggers's Zeitoun earlier this year, and wanted to delve into the Katrina history some more. While some of the short chapters provided revealing glances into lives in the aftermath of Katrina and the history of New Orleans, most were (selective) liberal rants on the handling of the event. The rants I can take, but please make sure that while doing so you are including all those who screwed up: Not one mention of Nagin's part in this ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
This gives examples and accounts of what REALLY happened during Hurricane Katrina. It reminded me of Thomas Hobbs and his famous saying that life is "nasty, brutish, and short". He also writes that when humans, in a state of disaster or lawlessness, find themselves reverted, so very quickly, to the state of animals in nature. Read, and you will see. There were many injustices that occurred during that time.
Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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  • Where We Know: New Orleans As Home
  • Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City
  • Letters from New Orleans
  • Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans
  • Why New Orleans Matters
  • Not Just the Levees Broke: My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina
  • Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table
  • Come Hell Or High Water: Hurricane Katrina And The Color Of Disaster
  • New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City
  • The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
  • Tom Fitzmorris's Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleans, the City Where Food Is Almost Everything
  • The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina--the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist
  • 1 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories
  • Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party
  • Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans
  • Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around
  • We're Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City
  • Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children: . . . and Other Streets of New Orleans!
“..I began speaking.. First, I took issue with the media's characterization of the post-Katrina New Orleans as resembling the third world as its poor citizens clamored for a way out. I suggested that my experience in New Orleans working with the city's poorest people in the years before the storm had reflected the reality of third-world conditions in New Orleans, and that Katrina had not turned New Orleans into a third-world city but had only revealed it to the world as such. I explained that my work, running Reprieve, a charity that brought lawyers and volunteers to the Deep South from abroad to work on death penalty issues, had made it clear to me that much of the world had perceived this third-world reality, even if it was unnoticed by our own citizens.

To try answer Ryan's question, I attempted to use my own experience to explain that for many people in New Orleans, and in poor communities across the country, the government was merely an antagonist, a terrible landlord, a jailer, and a prosecutor. As a lawyer assigned to indigent people under sentence of death and paid with tax dollars, I explained the difficulty of working with clients who stand to be executed and who are provided my services by the state, not because they deserve them, but because the Constitution requires that certain appeals to be filed before these people can be killed. The state is providing my clients with my assistance, maybe the first real assistance they have ever received from the state, so that the state can kill them.

I explained my view that the country had grown complacent before Hurricane Katrina, believing that the civil rights struggle had been fought and won, as though having a national holiday for Martin Luther King, or an annual march by politicians over the bridge in Selma, Alabama, or a prosecution - forty years too late - of Edgar Ray Killen for the murder of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, were any more than gestures. Even though President Bush celebrates his birthday, wouldn't Dr. King cry if he could see how little things have changed since his death? If politicians or journalists went to Selma any other day of the year, they would see that it is a crumbling city suffering from all of the woes of the era before civil rights were won as well as new woes that have come about since. And does anyone really think that the Mississippi criminal justice system could possibly be a vessel of social change when it incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than almost any place in the world, other than Louisiana and Texas, and then compels these prisoners, most of whom are black, to work prison farms that their ancestors worked as chattel of other men?
I hoped, out loud, that the post-Katrina experience could be a similar moment [to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fiasco], in which the American people could act like the children in the story and declare that the emperor has no clothes, and hasn't for a long time. That, in light of Katrina, we could be visionary and bold about what people deserve. We could say straight out that there are people in this country who are racist, that minorities are still not getting a fair shake, and that Republican policies heartlessly disregard the needs of individual citizens and betray the common good. As I stood there, exhausted, in front of the thinning audience of New Yorkers, it seemed possible that New Orleans's destruction and the suffering of its citizens hadn't been in vain.”
“The millions of vacationers who came here every year before Katrina were mostly unaware of this poverty. French Quarter tourists were rarely exposed to the reality beneath the Disneyland Gomorrah that is projected as 'N'Awlins,' a phrasing I have never heard a local use and a place, as far as I can tell, that I have never encountered despite my years in the city. The seemingly average, white, middle-class Americans whooped it up on Bourbon Street without any thought of the third-world lives of so many of the city's citizens that existed under their noses. The husband and wife, clad in khaki shorts, feather boa, and Mardi Gras beads well out of season, beheld a child tap-dancing on the street for money and clapped along to his beat without considering the obvious fact that this was an early school-day afternoon and that the child should be learning to read, not dancing for money. Somehow they did not see their own child beneath the dancer's black visage. Nor, perhaps, did they see the crumbling buildings where the city's poor live as they traveled by cab from the French Quarter to Commander's Palace. They were on vacation and this was not their problem. ” 9 likes
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