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Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  3,901 ratings  ·  568 reviews

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 questi

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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published 2009)
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Average rating 4.23  · 
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Sue
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
...more
Kaethe Douglas
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 co ...more
Lynette
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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, leisurel
...more
Kalen
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 la
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Bambi Unbridled

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 w
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Michael
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Lena
Aug 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lena by: Harper's article by author
Shelves: non-fiction
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 child
...more
Susan (the other Susan)
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 ma ...more
Sarah
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Lili
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Katia, Ken
Shelves: from-the-library
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 ...more
Diana
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jaime
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[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 wan
...more
Karyl
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 sho
...more
Nicole Bonia
Apr 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 s ...more
Jill
Jan 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 e ...more
Deb
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 understan ...more
LeAnne: GeezerMom
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Sherrie Miranda
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Jessica
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 abandon
...more
Kelly Such
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thought this book was great insight into what New Orleans is all about. Having gone to New Orleans for the first time last year, a lot of the city and sites are still fresh in my mind. I loved hearing about the krewes and costumes and how the city survived two devastating hurricanes.
Kristal
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: new-orleans
I liked this book and it’s many aspects of life in New Orleans. It was a little difficult to keep up with each character, but was able to follow their stories anyway. I felt like each character though was a good representation of someone living in New Orleans. Full of everything NOLA this is an interesting read.
Diana
Jul 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There is nothing more pleasurable to read, for me, than nonfiction that reads like fiction. This is the best book about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans that I have read, aside from The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley (also five stars).
Absolutely loved it.

Jack Blitz
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A incredibly accurate, detailed, and riveting non-fictional account of 9 New Orleanians and their lives between Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Katrina. So hard to put down and a must read if you live in the city of New Orleans.
Nina
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Baum shares the heart and soul of New Orleans through the nine lives he showcases.
Phil Ridarelli
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Visit the House of Dance and Feathers and introduce yourself to Mr. Ronald Lewis.
Stan Smith
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent reporting on lives of NOLA residents post-Katrina.
Paul Smits
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I decided to start research on New Orleans for a novel I want to write and this is the first book I picked up for it. I'm hard pressed to name a more powerful non-fiction book I have ever read. The personal stories of nine New Orleanians, from all levels of New Orleans' society, of how they lived their lives from hurricanes Betsy in 1965 to Katrina and its aftermath are incredibly touching and show you in the strongest way how people experienced the effects of racism, poverty, crime, and violenc ...more
Michelle
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book blew me away! It gives an in-depth look into the lives and culture of the people of New Orleans, which now more than ever strikes me as a very special place. It reads like a novel, but somehow knowing that these characters are real people makes the story so much more meaningful. Ronald Lewis' story was especially touching to me.

Only issue was that 2/3 of the women in the book felt like mere accessories. I would've liked to see more women whose stories were more than just who they were
...more
Holly S
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely riveting stories about those that lived through both hurricanes Betsy and Katina. I personally knew people that could have been excellent subjects for this book. Having driven through the desolate Ninth Ward two years after Katrina, I have a lot of sympathy/empathy for the neighborhoods that were totally wiped out.
Jeff
Nov 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Dan Baum's exploration of New Orleans' evolution from the 1960s through the mid-2000s works on a number of levels. Framed by the occurrence of two major hurricanes: Hurricane Betsy in September of 1965 and Hurricane Katrina in August of 2004. From inception, the reader thinks this will be a piece about disaster and its physical, social, economic, and psychological impacts. Yet, by the middle of the book, it is clear that hurricanes merely highlight the real disaster occurring in so many U.S. urb ...more
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Thank you! 2 35 May 29, 2009 01:53PM  

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Dan Baum has been a staff writer for The New Yorker, for which he covered Hurricane Katrina. He's been a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is the author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip, Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty and Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. He has written numerous articles for suc ...more

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“But this home over here: it needed paint but had flowers neatly planted all the way around it. That one over there had a tire swing out front, tied to a fat magnolia tree. Behind another, a lush vegetable garden. You got to fight not to give into despair, he told himself. You got to see the good that's mixed in with the bad.” 3 likes
“That was the point of Mardi Gras, was it not? To serve and honor all the people, to bring into hard lives a touch of royalty and grandeur....To put on a spectacle such as this, free of charge, was an honor. New Orleans was sick and wounded, but no other city in the world had a celebration quite like this. It was beautiful precisely because it was so frivolous.” 3 likes
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