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Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans

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The hidden history of a haunted and beloved city told through the intersecting lives of nine remarkable characters

After Hurricane Katrina, Dan Baum moved to New Orleans to write about the city’s response to the disaster for The New Yorker. He quickly realized that Katrina was not the most interesting thing about New Orleans, not by a long shot. The most interesting question, which struck him as he watched residents struggling to return, was this: Why are New Orleanians—along with people from all over the world who continue to flock there—so devoted to a place that was, even before the storm, the most corrupt, impoverished, and violent corner of America?

Here’s the answer. Nine Lives is a multivoiced biography of this dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city through the lives of nine characters over forty years and bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which transformed the city in the 1960’s, and Katrina, which nearly destroyed it. These nine lives are windows into every strata of one of the most complex and fascinating cities in the world. From outsider artists and Mardi Gras Kings to jazz-playing coroners and transsexual barkeeps, these lives are possible only in New Orleans, but the city that nurtures them is also, from the beginning, a city haunted by the possibility of disaster. All their stories converge in the storm, where some characters rise to acts of heroism and others sink to the bottom. But it is New Orleans herself—perpetually whistling past the grave yard—that is the story’s real heroine.

Nine Lives is narrated from the points of view of some of New Orleans’s most charismatic characters, but underpinning the voices of the city is an extraordinary feat of reporting that allows Baum to bring this kaleidoscopic portrait to life with brilliant color and crystalline detail. Readers will find themselves wrapped up in each of these individual dramas and delightfully immersed in the life of one of this country’s last unique places, even as its ultimate devastation looms ever closer. By resurrecting this beautiful and tragic place and portraying the extraordinary lives that could have taken root only there, Nine Lives shows us what was lost in the storm and what remains to be saved.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Dan Baum

6 books51 followers
Dan Baum was born in Orange, New Jersey (or South Orange, New Jersey) to Seymour and Audrey Bernice (Goldberger) Baum. His father, Seymour, was an executive with Colgate-Palmolive. His mother, Audrey Bernice (Goldberger) Baum, was a social worker. Raised in South Orange, Baum graduated from Columbia High School in 1974. He graduated from New York University in 1978.

Over the years he worked for various publications as a journalist. He was staff writer for The New Yorker, for which he covered Hurricane Katrina. In addition to that famous magazine he was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also freelanced for various publications such as Rolling Stone, Wired, Playboy and Harper's Magazine. He also wrote several books: Gun Guys: A Road Trip, Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty and Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure.

In 1987 he married fellow reporter Margret L. Knox and they had one daughter, Rosa Baum. Over the next thirty-three years he and Margaret would makes their home in various places across the globe: Zimbabwe, France, Missoula, Mont., rural Mexico, Watsonville, Calif., and Boulder, Colorado (where he passed away).

For many years, Mr. Baum and Ms. Knox collaborated on writing projects that carried only Mr. Baum’s byline, though she was a full partner, he wrote on their website. They wanted their writing to speak with a strong individual voice, and they thought a double byline would undermine that goal.

He died on Oct. 8, 2020 at his home in Boulder, Colo., at 64. Cause of death was glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 640 reviews
Profile Image for Max.
337 reviews288 followers
April 22, 2022
Baum follows the lives of nine residents of New Orleans for forty years between Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Katrina in 2005. The nine are diverse, male and female, white and black, rich and poor. Most don’t know each other. They are however representative of the different segments of society in New Orleans. Tracing their lives does as much to depict the culture of New Orleans as it does to describe them as individuals. Despite racial and class tensions, Baum makes clear how Mardi Gras and the city’s jazz heritage tie its people together. The pedigreed upper class living in mansions in the Garden District and the impoverished living in the lower ninth ward all share a deep affection for New Orleans, its traditions and easy going way of life. Despite the city’s history of corruption and crime, it has a charm unique in the U.S. Baum advises us to think of New Orleans not as “the worst organized city in the United States” but “the best organized city in the Caribbean”.

Baum conducted extensive interviews with each of the nine and many others to piece together their stories. He presents them chronologically interspersed in short sections. Thus, we are continually hopping from one to the another, but it works, as we follow the city from its rebuilding after hurricane Betsy to the devastation of Katrina. We see the stark differences between life in the poor black community in the lower ninth ward and the well-off white community uptown. The individual stories are compelling. Some are inspirational showing individuals rising above personal challenges, discrimination and poverty to build a life, help others and their community. Some of the nine rejected established positions and conformity to embrace life in the French Quarter.

We get many different perspectives: A motivated man from the lower ninth ward who uses his education and love of music to become a band leader at the poorest city high school to give kids with dysfunctional or no parents a place to find meaning and a sense of accomplishment. A woman who always strove to achieve an education but found it constantly interrupted by children and bad marriages and eventually found happiness with a wonderful man. A comfortably married man who realizes he is a woman and makes the life changing decision to be herself starting a whole new life running a bar in the French Quarter. A Texan who leaves his work as an MP in the US Army to become a New Orleans policeman attracted by the city’s wild ways and his desire to bring it in line. The remaining five stories are also unique but all these people are tied together by their attachment to New Orleans.

At the end, all nine face Katrina which destroys their homes and leaves the city flooded and completely devastated. All know people who died in the disaster. The poorest get hit hardest finding their houses in the lower ninth gone and the few still standing flooded to the roof. The city shuts down and is evacuated. It has to be reborn as do each of the nine. The hurricane reshapes their lives as each comes to terms with what is really important to them. Life starts anew. A wonderful read.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,218 reviews512 followers
October 11, 2015
Nine Live is an excellent story of New Orleans as seen through these nine individuals and the lives they touch. As much as I have read about the effects of Katrina on the city and its people, this was eye-opening. And that is because of Dan Baum's reporting, his listening, and the access the many people of New Orleans allowed him. As he wrote in his Acknowledgments:

but as a reporter, I really must thank everybody I
encountered in New Orleans--from the po'boy sellers and
street musicians to the cops and hat merchants and the
tattooed ex-con who fixed my car--for building a culture
where nothing is ever "none of your business." One really
can't ask a question in New Orleans that is too personal,
even of a total stranger. For someone in my unseemly
profession, it's paradise.

Baum's subjects in Nine Lives are teachers, cops, housewives, mothers and fathers, criminals, transsexual bar owners, a member of one of the old gentry. Through them we see the history of New Orleans, good and bad, the spirit of the city, the encroachment of drugs and guns, the vitality of the Lower Ninth in spite of lack of services, the wonder of Mardi Gras and the spirit of the city, racial inequities, crooked politics, and struggles on all sides. But the story builds and builds to what the reader knows will be Katrina. And that is overwhemingly powerful.

To hear from the coroner, Frank Minyard, who admits he has not lived as an angel in his highly political position: Still no helicopters. Frank couldn't understand it. If the water was this deep here, right in middle of the city, all of New Orleans must be underwater. Thousands of people must be trapped, dying. Where is the army? Where are the feds?

For anyone interested in New Orleans of old or its still ongoing attempts at rebirth, this is a book you should read. I have to admit there are parts that made me angry all over again but there are parts that make me proud and glad to know of so many people who have chosen to stay and work to keep that city and its people, their home, alive and vibrant.

Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,330 reviews451 followers
July 28, 2016
Just this past week I read a critique of the reporting on Katrina in general, and on Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital in particular, as being written by outsiders who don't know enough to know what they were missing. Since I can't find the piece now, I realize that mentioning it isn't very helpful. But here's the detail that struck me: Memorial Hospital's name had been changed years before the storm, but in the way of these things, the name change had not been complete: signs, maps, and the local's common name for the hospital did not match up. Since my marriage I have become familiar with people giving directions in terms of things which do not currently exist and may not have existed for some time (there has not been a Kroger in "Kroger Plaza" for at least 25 years). Medical facilities in the area have consolidated and re-divided, clinics upgraded to special hospitals, outpatient services taken out of hospitals and put into clinics, bits and pieces named after individuals, and couples, distinctions made between teaching bits and non-teaching bits, and cetra, and cetra. You'd be hard-pressed to find two people who could agree on what any specific location or entity should be properly called within the entities. Local folks ignore all that, relying on a word or two in context. So yes, I can imagine that in a devastating event miscommunication as to what the hell hospital it is we're trying to evacuate would be likely.

So, I wanted to read this book to listen to the voices of the people of New Orleans, at least some of them. Baum is doing a good job of evoking them. I'm enjoying this in the same way I enjoyed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story.


It's a book both horrifying and wryly amusing. Baum does a great job of bringing his nine different people to vivid life and making you care deeply about their interests and their actions. And the book fills me with a blinding rage that racism killed so many people, and that Bush was so blithely indifferent to the lives of thousands. This is why Black Lives Matter: because clearly, to many Americans, they don't, not even a tiny bit. I'm still angry about reporters and photo captions that accused Black people of looting, but white people of "finding food." It's got to stop.
Profile Image for Lynette.
Author 14 books9 followers
January 28, 2009
New Orleans is a city full of contradictions, a place out of context with the rest of America. It defies understanding, explanation, and most especially, classification. It’s a quality the residents hold onto, this testament of uniqueness, even as the city has teetered time and again on the brink of destruction.

I’ve lived near New Orleans for most of my life. I’m a frequent visitor there, and, like everyone else who comes, I’ve fallen in love with its decadent grandness, its welcoming, leisurely way of life. All manner of man calls New Orleans home, and every one of them is right. It is unique, out of step with the rest of America. And this is exactly why it is so important to save, even now, even as the great lady teeters on her knees trying desperately to rise from the devastation of Katrina.

Dan Baum, on assignment from The New Yorker after the storm, quickly learned this. He, along with his wife Margaret, eventually moved to New Orleans in order to write a book, one in which, using the bookends of Betsy in 1965 and Katrina in 2005, captures perfectly what it means to love this city.

Baum chose nine people he had gotten to know after the storm, conducting hundreds of hours of interviews, writing the story of the city through their eyes. They are from vastly different ends of the socio-political spectrum, ranging from the widow of a revered Mardi Gras Indian chief to the long-time coroner of Orleans parish, from a transsexual bar owner to a former king of Rex and pillar of the Uptown community. Their stories are unique, yet a common thread runs through them all – the deep, abiding love of this place, of the home New Orleans offers to each.

The author captures that love without being preachy or overly sentimental. New Orleans is far from a fairy-tale land of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance. Poverty, desperation, and crime are huge, unending problems, and Baum acknowledges this. The stories he tells are candid, real, and fraught with generations of loss and disappointment. They are, however, also stories of hope, people who have risen, time and again, despite adversity after adversity.

Many people in the rest of the United States have questioned why we should rebuild such a place, crippled as it is by poverty and corruption. It takes spending time in New Orleans to learn its value, I suppose, to experience the unique magic that makes this city special. If you can’t visit, however, read this book. Dan Baum has clearly seen and understands. Five Stars.
Profile Image for Kalen.
578 reviews80 followers
April 10, 2014
Stunning. If you read only one book about New Orleans, read this one. Baum has been compared to Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote and I would agree with both of those comparisons. His writing is so lush, so vivid, that you feel like you are right there in New Orleans as the stories unfold.

Nine different narratives are woven together, beginning in 1965 with Hurricane Betsy. Some of the reviews I read before I picked up the book complained that Nine Lives isn't more focused on Katrina--it's only the last 100 pages. Honestly, with Baum's writing style and the intensity of the stories, do you *want* more than that? My heart raced as I read the last 100 pages and I held back tears as I read the last 30. Hurricane Katrina was, essentially, a character of the book, not the sole reason for these incredible stories.

As Hurricane Katrina becomes more distant in our collective rear view mirror, I hope and trust this book will become a critical part of the literature on the subject. (8/21/11)

Re-read (and I re-read very few books--not enough time) and this one held up. There were a lot of stories and details I'd forgotten and I'm glad I took the time to revisit these amazing nine people from New Orleans. I often describe this book as being about Hurricane Katrina, but really, it's a love letter to New Orleans. It's much, much bigger than Katrina.
Profile Image for Bambi Unbridled.
1,282 reviews138 followers
August 17, 2016

Nine Lives is the gripping tale of forty odd years of life and death in New Orleans bracketed by two hurricanes - Hurricane Betsy in September 1965 and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The story is told in a memoir narrative style, seeing life and death through the eyes of nine incredibly interesting New Orleanians.

Ronald Lewis was born and raised in the Lower 9th Ward, saw both hurricanes, and became a champion for the rebirth of the Lower 9th following Hurricane Katrina. As a young man, he worked worked on the streetcar rails, later founded a social and pleasure club, and is well known for his backyard museum, the House of Dance and Feathers dedicated to some of the most interesting traditions in the city.

Joyce Montana is widow of Tootie Montana, former Big Chief of Yellow Pocahontas of the Mardi Gras Indians. Joyce helped Tootie with his elaborate suits every year, which he implemented to steer the Mardi Gras Indian tradition away from fighting and bloodshed. With Tootie's influence, and Joyce's help, the violent culture was transformed into a culture of competition of arts and craftsmanship. The Indian suits that have followed this tradition are truly beautiful and time consuming works of art, many of which can be seen in Ronald Lewis' House of Dance and Feathers. Tootie and Joyce's son, Darryl Montana, is the current reigning Big Chief of Yellow Pocahontas.

JoAnn Guidos is the transexual owner of Kajun's Pub on St. Claude Ave. In Nine Lives, we first meet a young John Guidos, a quiet football player who often experimented with his mother's clothing. As John ages, he truly has harrowing ups and downs in his life before he feels free to become JoAnn. With an ex-wife, children, and a failed business, his story was quite interesting - and he truly gave back to New Orleans during and after the storm. JoAnn kept Kajun's Pub open as a refuge and gathering place for the lost souls of her community, until she was forced to shut down by the military who were evacuating the city.

Wilbert Rawlins, Jr. current band director at LB Landry High School is a hero of the community when it comes to troubled high school students. Rawlins has been a father figure to countless troubled teens, offering tough love and respect in turn, and giving them an outlet through music. We watch Rawlins grow from a young man to this respected community member. Will had the utmost respect for his father, William Rawlings Sr., and continuously strove to live up to his name and make his father proud. I loved the relationship between these two, the strong stoic father who took such an active role in his son's life, and gave him the good example that Will, in turn, passed on to his students.

Belinda Rawlins is 2nd wife of Wilbert Rawlins, Jr. We meet her as a smart young girl who loves books and only wanted to get an education and have a white picket fence life. Belinda's plans were derailed several times, but she persevered and never gave up. I have to admire her gumption in the face of the many trials and tribulations she faced and one of the best moments of her story was when she reconciled the meaning and importance of Will's work in the community.

Billy Grace is one of the prominent business leaders in the Uptown community, a residence of the Rex Mansion on St. Charles Street, and Carnival King in 2002. Billy didn't come from money, but married into it when he married Anne and moved into the home that had been in her family for the past century. Some of the more sad and disappointing aspects of New Orleans history came out through Billy's story - particularly the resistance to forced integration of New Orleans and its Mardi Gras krewes.

Timothy Bruneau began his law enforcement career in 1992 with the military, and became an NOPD Officer after his first enlistment was over. Tim's story was one of the most difficult, and not just from the events surrounding Katrina. We saw Tim fighting crime and corruption in a very violent city, suffer a near career-ending injury, and then suffer unimaginable horrors after the storm. I know that NOPD got a bad rap after Katrina, and that tends to overshadow the selfless and terrifying experiences of officers that were out trying to do good, like Tim Bruneau. Homeless, sleeping in his patrol car, yet still trying to help the city, I have total respect for this man and hope he is enjoying the retirement he has earned.

Anthony Wells was a small-time drug dealer living in the Lower 9th. He was in and out of Angola prison a few times, but rode out the storm in the Lower 9. After the mandatory evacuation, Anthony was sent as a refugee to Knoxville/Netwon, Tennessee. This part of his story highlighted the difficulty faced by displaced residents, some things that I was hearing for the first time.

Frank Minyard was definitely a character. We first meet him as a wealthy gynecologist who gets involved with fighting drug addiction in the city through a methadone clinic. This led Frank to run for coroner, where he became know as Dr. Jazz, and was ultimately the longest standing civil servant in the state of Louisiana (maybe the country). Raised in the 9th Ward, Frank was often involved with people involved in the civil rights movement, and never shied away from patients no matter their race or social class.

Frank Baum's reporting skills definitely shine through this book. He didn't pull punches, and he wasn't afraid to show the grimy underbelly of New Orleans. Baum brought the multi-layered city to life and showed that while it's not always pretty, it is real. New Orleans is made up of its people, and Baum demonstrated that its people have New Orleans in their blood. I hope I can meet some of these interesting individuals now that I'm a proud resident of the Crescent City.

I received an advanced copy of this audiobook from Tantor Audio in exchange for an honest review. Full review posted at Bambi Unbridled.
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Profile Image for Michael.
167 reviews15 followers
April 22, 2013
A few years ago I suggested a book group book about cities recovering from disasters. My fellow bookies groaned. "Nooooooo! Katrina fatigue" was the consensus response.

Still I felt obligated to read Nine Lives as the author is a neighbor and slight acquaintance. A couple of things held me back. One was ... Katrina fatigue. Also I had never visited New Orleans and regretted that I missed my chance before it was swept away by a Cat 5 hurricane, broken levees, polluted floodwaters, failed policies.

The reason I never visited NOLA was I harbored a deep suspicion that it was a cartoon, a failed city hiding behind a Mardi Gras mask. Sort of like Santa Fe and its adobe Conoco station and tiny, cutesy, contrived core engulfed in a sea of low-rent sprawl. That was my prejudice.

Ok, that's a lot of background.

I finally went to New Orleans a month ago and was swept away by its depth and complexity. In a city that was 80 percent underwater, decaying for generations, still plagued by corrupt government, lingering segregation, terrible numbers for health, education and crime, and a limp local economy, more than 80 percent have moved back.

Poor blacks and white exiled to Baton Rouge or Houston clawed to get back to a semblance of their lives in an unpainted shotgun house. They have been joined by an influx of young musicians and entrepreneurs, some of whom came to rebuild homes as volunteers and just stayed. Rich whites re-invested in stately homes that are really so much termite fodder. We biked all over the city and found new vitality everywhere.

It turns out that Bourbon Street is the cartoon, but it is engulfed by richly layered multi-part novel.

During a brass/hip hop concert in Congo Square, I stood among thousands of dancing New Orleaneans (?) and said to my daughter, "Do any other residents love their city as much as this?" She shrugged and replied, "Maybe New York?"

So I came back to Nine Lives to understand why. I was rewarded with a deep look inside the city over a generation. Katrina is just the climax. The book is beautifully researched and written like a fine novel. As I past journalist I can appreciate the time Dan Baum has taken to recreate scenes (some 50 years old as the book begins with Hurricane Betsy in 1965) with a high degree of nuance, dialogue and insight. He captures the poetry of everyday people, including cops, grifters, band leaders, a track repairman on the St. Charles lines, the King of Carnival, and the unforgettable Frank Minyard, the trumpet-playing coroner who waited a week for Katrina's casualties to show up in his provisional morgue.

If you've been put off from reading Nine Lives by Katrina fatigue, go read Nine Lives now. It's just good literature. If you haven't been to New Orleans, don't wait your whole life like I did.
Profile Image for Sarah.
5 reviews
August 3, 2009
I can't adequately articulate how great this book is. The good and the bad are creatively, unbiasedly interwoven into arresting narratives that illustrate the complexity and diversity of New Orleans. Just read it. Especially if you have any connections to New Orleans.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book335 followers
August 19, 2010
Nine Lives is a powerful and moving portrait of the city of New Orleans as told through the life histories of nine very different residents. The story begins with the reaction of a 15-year old Ninth Ward resident to the 1965 devastation of Hurricane Betsy and moves through the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and beyond.

Among the other people profiled in the book are a wealthy uptown man with an active historical presence in Mardi Gras, an ambitious black woman determined to escape her childhood poverty, a Hallmark store owner coming to grips with his transsexuality, a band leader trying to bring music to the lives of kids who have little else, and a by-the-book cop trying to make sense of a city that is anything but sensical.

Baum weaves together snapshots of key moments in each of these people's lives in a way that highlights the struggles and gifts of this one-of-a-kind place. The divisions of race, the importance of music, the power of family, community and ritual, and the corruption endemic to all strata of New Orleans society are among the issues he focuses on in each of these tales. While these things don't exactly explain what happened during Katrina and its aftermath, they do shed light on how a city that is in many ways foreign to the rest of America dealt with that crushing blow.

The cover of this book bears more than a little resemblance to that more famous Southern character study, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. While there are some similarities, Nine Lives is a far more intense and serious book. Baum's skilled portrayal of the hopes and pain of each of these nine lives made the city of New Orleans and the devastation of Katrina far more real for me than any news report ever could.
Profile Image for Susan (the other Susan).
535 reviews71 followers
August 29, 2015
Remarkable. Beyond my capacity to review while I'm still feeling the personal connections this book inspired; I feel as if I know these nine people, and I wish they knew me. I did meet two of the heroes of Nine Lives last December - Ronald Lewis and Pete Alexander - at the backyard museum called House of Dance and Feathers, in New Orleans' slowly rebuilding Lower Ninth Ward. I need to write to those gentlemen now that I know their story more fully, thank them for the generosity of spirit that made my friend and me feel so welcome that sunny afternoon. Maybe when those letters are written, I'll review Nine Lives.
Profile Image for Lili.
468 reviews
August 6, 2011
In preparation for an upcoming overnight in New Orleans, I wanted to read something contemporary and multi-dimensional that acknowledged the reality of Katrina without being simply a rant about mismanagement, mistreatment, poverty, segregation, etc. Ideally, I was looking for something like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels, but set in New Orleans. After an hour or two of reading comments and reviews of various New Orleans books on Goodreads, I decided to see if I could find Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans in my local library.

I loved this book, perhaps even more so than John Berendt's books, for its portrayal of people, its sense of place and its insight into unique pockets of society. At least the first two-thirds were spent developing the characters' lives after Hurricane Betsy in 1965 in short interlaced vignettes (usually less than three pages each). When Hurricane Katrina hits, the stories continue in the same style of vignettes through 2008 (the book was published 2009). It is a powerful way to show what happened and how it affected a variety of different people, without preaching or ranting. Although the vignettes are predominately based on author interviews, there is absolutely no author presence in the book, which I find pretty amazing. It is only in the Afterword that the author describes how he met each of the nine protagonists, the effort he expended to elicit/edit their stories and (of course) the academic research he undertook to ensure that the vignettes were grounded in the proper context. The bibliography was amazing in its breadth and depth.

One warning: I was extremely fortunate to have read this book almost straight through while on vacation. Because of number of characters and some of the similar elements between their stories, it could be a very different (and perhaps bad) experience to read an hour at a time in the evenings. I'd imagine that it may be frustrating to keep the people, places and circumstances straight when only read in short bursts, especially early on when you aren't as "invested" in what happens next to each of the people. Similarly, I don't think this would be a good audio book, unless it was possible to listen to it in a fairly solid block (like a drive to New Orleans).
Profile Image for Diana.
36 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2018
99% of the time I read fiction. I enjoy getting lost in other people's worlds and words and non-fiction doesn't usually give me the same sense of "otherness". This book reads like fiction - the larger than life characters (including the city itself), the lyrical way the author strings the various story lines together and the incredible situations that take place leading up to and after Katrina. It's hard to imagine a place where all of this could happen - but it does. Dan Baum does a magnificent job in bringing this all to life and does it in a way that isn't preachy, disrespectful or insensitive. At first I had trouble keeping track of all the characters but then I realized that, just like those people who live in New Orleans, I needed to relax into the flow of the book and it would all work out. I finished this book three days ago and still find myself thinking about one of the characters and wondering how they're doing...
Profile Image for Lacey.
7 reviews
February 24, 2013
At first I didn’t understand why I was struggling so much to read Nine Lives. I now know the problem- I’m not invested in all the characters. I find myself breezing through a few of the sections, just wanting to move on to the next one, whatever that may be. While I truly believe every person has a story, it feels as if Baum is dragging each story out. I felt myself waiting and waiting for the plot to pick up. I also found Baum's descriptive writing a little much for me. He described some things for so long I almost forgot the point of the sentence. That being said, I think it is a good book and I would definitely recommend it. I admire the Baums (Dan wrote it with his wife) for the time and effort it took to write a story like this. It is interesting, enlightening and thought-provoking. I’m going to go look up pictures of Tootie now.
Profile Image for Jaime.
432 reviews16 followers
October 6, 2014
[FEMA sent a letter.]"I called, said I'm a Katrina victim. They wanted to know where was the disaster. Where was the disaster? In fucking New Orleans."

I get asked why I love New Orleans so very much. The author, in the acknowledgements, talks about the city's storytelling culture. And the stories woven here are raw - you can conjure sitting across from the person. Importantly, maybe - this one isn't all about Katrina. But by the time you get to Katrina, you know these people so well that you want to take a baseball bat to something when you see what they went through.

So, publicly, I want to say I regret not putting a $20 in the bucket for the band playing at the start of Bourbon Street just over a week ago. They were high school kids, and because of this book, I get it a little more. I'll just go back. Again, and again.
Profile Image for Lillian.
8 reviews
May 14, 2021
What a captivating and moving book about the citizens of New Orleans. I eagerly follow each chapter of the nine lives, even the houses are lively characters with their rise and fall. Sadly, there will not be a sequel from Dan Baum. As of 2021, a few of them are no longer with us, but the culture of New Orleans will live on for generations to come. This is a vivid tribute to these brave Americans from all walks of life.
Profile Image for Charissa.
44 reviews
September 2, 2012

Just couldn't get into many of the lives in this story. I'm sure they were all fascinating, but many weren't written well enough to intrigue or remember from chapter to chapter.
Profile Image for Stephanie Dahlberg.
478 reviews3 followers
June 12, 2017
There were a lot of very positive reviews for this book. Guess I just didn't get it. I couldn't really keep the characters straight and the book just went too slow for me. Call me shallow but honest!
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,498 reviews34 followers
May 22, 2021
3.5 stars Baum looks at the city of New Orleans through the lives of nine residents, ranging from the widow of one of the Big Chiefs, to a band director, a transgender barkeep, a coroner, a cop, and more. He bookends these life stores with Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Katrina in 2005. While the hurricanes are definitely a part of the life - and Katrina pulls everything together, what stands out in this read is how vividly he depicts the life of each of the nine people that he is profiling. You get a scope of the sense of the city through the lives of it's residents. You see hope, corruption, racism, music, and more -- all wrapped up in the tremendous sense of place and community that is New Orleans. Near the end, when Katrina happens, it feels so personal because you have spent 40 years with these people - you know what they went through to get that house, you know how close they were to the neighbors that didn't return to the city, you felt some of the pain for the friends and family that were lost. One of the most harrowing pieces of writing for me in the book was when the rain and storm had stopped and people are standing in the streets and the water started rising. People are looking at the ground and wondering why it is getting wet, where is it coming from. As a reader, we know what happened, but Baum tells the story in a way that you feel like you are there with the person, perplexed and confused about why there is water coming up in the street when it has stopped raining. I listened to this read on audio and I think if I had read it, it would probably have been a 4 star read for me. The audio narrator really got into the different voices for the characters, but with 9 different main characters, it made the listening experience feel a little disjointed.
Profile Image for Karyl.
1,667 reviews120 followers
July 16, 2020
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited New Orleans a couple of times, thanks to a friend from there who now lives a couple of hours away. My first trip there was in 2009, four years after Katrina devastated the area, and I seem to remember that some of the houses my friend showed me still bore the X’s marked on them after the storm.

I’ve always known New Orleans to be a wholly unique city, unlike any other in the US. As a result, I’ve always been fascinated by it, and Baum’s reporting really showcases the particular vibe of this very wonderful city. Because he focuses on first-person sources, it really feels as though you’re there in New Orleans, seeing Tootie’s amazing suits as he parades down the street, hearing Wil Rawlins’s high school bands play, following along with JoAnn Guidos’s transformation. We really get a sense of who these nine people are, and the city in which they live, thanks to Baum allowing them their own voices throughout the book.

If you’re afraid that too much of the book is about Hurricane Katrina, fear not — the book starts in 1965 with Hurricane Betsy, and then slowly makes its way through the next 40 years until Katrina hits. It does showcase the abject failure the government was in the aftermath of the hurricane, which is hugely disheartening.

I admit, this book makes me want to book a ticket down to NOLA to see my friend... well, as soon as the pandemic has subsided and it’s safe. Until then, pick up this book and feel as though you’ve transported to New Orleans!

Profile Image for Nicole | The Readerly Report.
144 reviews47 followers
May 28, 2009
Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans tracks the stories of nine people living in different parts of New Orleans and experiencing the different lives that the city has to offer between two major hurricanes that swept through the city, each devastating the city but ultimately having results vastly different results. Just a few of the colorful people whom we meet are Frank Minyard a gynecologist who after achieving the heights of riches and a comfortable life wants do do more meaningful work so and so decides to become the county coroner; young Belinda dreams of being able to escape the predestined road of motherhood to be the first in her family to attend college; John Guidos the former store owner who was born to be a person his body hasn’t allowed him to be; and Wilbert Rawlins, a band teacher so dedicated to the poverty stricken teens who don’t have families of their own that he almost loses some of the important things in life.

I was drawn in by the wonderful slices of life right away. Baum alternates the stories over the years , and I loved getting to know the people and learning their about their hopes and dreams and see the progress that they made and the setbacks and challenges that they faced. I have been to New Orleans a couple of times and it has so much culture and rich scenery and beauty, but it was so fascinating to learn more and see some of the hidden dimensions of the city that may not be readily apparent to visitors. I learned of the krewes (restrictive social clubs) formed by the different groups in New Orleans, often with all white membership and their battles with the city over participation in Mardi Gras and the Black-Indian celebration which brought communities together and instilled pride in heritage. Some of the lives that Baum follows belong to the different krewes and it is interesting to see their approach to membership in the clubs and how some members feel that they should change to be more accomodating to the times and to outsiders. I read about the New Orleans Police Department and the awesome amount of corruption and scandal that plagued the department for years. I could go on and on about the interesting parts of New Orleans culture that I discovered in this book.

By the time they got to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina I was fully involved in each of the lives presented in Nine Lives, and it made it that much more poignant to truly have an idea of what the stakes were for each person and what the loss meant to their individual dreams and to the lives of their families. Dan Baum conducted extensive research and interviews in writing this book, but that doesn’t detract from the wonderful human element, and none of this story feels dry or inaccessible. He has a way of writing that let’s each person’s character and personality come through. Their individual voices are respected and heard and the book is in their own words as much as possible. I was delighted to get to know the people introduced to me in this book and I celebrated their triumphs at cried at their tragedies. There is a much richer experience here than just learning about the effects of Hurricanes Katrina & Betty . If you love reading about different communities and enjoy getting a glimpse into people’s lives then you will truly enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Tara.
509 reviews
June 19, 2019
Too many people. Varied stories. Powerful portrait- “Other people's children went off to college, which for years Ronald had interpreted as a positive thing. Lately, though, he wasn't so sure. The children who went off to college hardly ever came back. It was as though the hard work of getting that college degree bent them out of shape, focused them too much on their own personal achievement. Once you got that degree, it was all about getting ahead in that monetized struggle, and they forgot the community that raised them. Ooh, live in the Lower Nine; not me. Ooh, do a day's work with your hands; I won't touch that. The neighborhood gained something when one of its children went off to become a doctor or an engineer, but it lost something, too.”
25 reviews
February 1, 2010
It's a testament to the people Dan Baum chose to follow and how well he tells their story that I completely forgot that the book was leading up to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Reading about the horrors of the way that whole thing was handled made me incredibly angry and sad, and I have to wonder why Bush wasn't brought up on charges of manslaughter, or at the very least, reckless endangerment or some such. How we can nearly impeach a president for sleeping with an intern yet turn a blind eye to the needless deaths of thousands of people, I will never understand.
Profile Image for Deb.
359 reviews13 followers
March 15, 2016
One of the marks of a good book is how much I find myself thinking about it, long after I've finished it. This book opened my eyes to the people who make up the city of New Orleans, and how the city itself is so much more than uptown, the French Quarter, the Ninth Ward. I've been to New Orleans several times, and have read several books about it, but this one got to me in a way none of the others did. We are all so quick to judge others, but reading this book has made me want to try to understand people more, to halt those snap judgements, to sit and listen before speaking.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
423 reviews540 followers
July 3, 2015
As a New Orleanian, I can state that this was really an authentic read and an accurate slice of the lives we live. Well done.
Profile Image for Sherrie Miranda.
Author 2 books140 followers
March 19, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Made Me Laugh, Cry and Remember!
By Sherrie Miranda on March 15, 2018
Format: Paperback
A friend of mine found this book in the 2nd hand store & got it for me because she knows I'm writing a novel that takes place in New Orleans. At first, I was just reading the parts that took place in the 80s. Then I realized I was missing a chance to know New Orleans more intimately.
There are stories that will anger you, make you feel sad & make you wonder how people can be so cruel. There are also stories that will warm your heart.
Having lived in NOLA for seven years, I have no doubt that these stories are all true. Dan Baum really took his time and got to the heart of the contradiction that is New Orleans. Too bad we don't have more journalists like him!
Sherrie Miranda's historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” will be out en Español soon. It's about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
Profile Image for Leah B.
70 reviews1 follower
June 1, 2022
A little slow to start and it took me a few turns to follow the nine different lives interchangeably. I usually love multiple POV novels, but it wasn’t until about half way through that I found a good rhythm switching between each character (life).

Otherwise, the level of detail is phenomenal. There’s so many details I’ve learned through this book that help to understand Orlean’s culture, important figures, sensitivities, and little details as to why the road is so bad (spills the tea on years of unpaid property taxes and corruption). The Katrina years are heart wrenching and the systematic handling by FEMA and the government to not support Orlean’s citizens as they were due is infuriating. What makes this city is the resilience of its people and this book championed exactly that.

3.5, rounded up to 4.
Profile Image for Jessica.
27 reviews2 followers
May 28, 2017
We all know what happened with Hurricane Katrina. This book tells the story of 9 people and their lives leading up to Katrina. Their stories are diverse, but all demonstrate a love for their city, along with a remarkable amount of resilience.

I think I was especially moved by this book as I see many similarities with my experience providing social work in Flint, MI. Both are cities that have dealt with high levels of corruption, crime, and preventable disasters. Both of their people were abandoned when they needed help the most. Despite this, both cities have people who continue to love and fight for their cities. This is what got me.
Profile Image for Magdalena Wajda.
421 reviews14 followers
January 19, 2021
A totally engrossing, fascinating story of New Orleans before and after Katrina. Told through the stories of its nine residents, people of different skin color and different backgrounds. What they have in common is the love for their city. Love that survives even the horrors of Katrina and they come back to help NOLA bounce back.
I learned a lot about New Orleans from this book, but not only about the city itself, also about the social and racial issues still very much alive in the US.
Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Rachel Yankee.
2 reviews
September 16, 2022
A friend suggested I read this book prior to my first trip to New Orleans, which will be in a few weeks, and I am so glad I did. It gives such an indepth look into the very diverse lives of the people who live there and I think it will give me more of an appreciation for the city when I visit. It also opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn't know or realize. I enjoyed this book so much and found I was a little emotional at the end.
Profile Image for Sophia Champagne.
22 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2022
Having been born in New Orleans and growing up within the area, I loved the way the characters’ lives intertwined in this book as people often have crazy, coincidental connections in this magical city. Additionally, the inclusion of historic landmarks made reading this book feel like I was taking a literary tour of NOLA.
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