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Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  2,951 Ratings  ·  479 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

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published 2009)
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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 c
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the book I've been wanting to read about NOLA. I know a lot of people have complained about the nine story lines all jockeying for your attention, and I usually feel the same way about such narratives. But in the introduction the author tells us not to worry about remembering the names, but to take a laid back approach like they would in New Orleans and focus on the stories in the moment. I found that helped immensely.

By the end of the book I felt like I knew the characters. When Tootie
Guy Gonzalez
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, nola
This book has all the rave reviews it needs, so let me not belabor the point. Nine Lives is an important book, a necessary book, a simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming, frustrating and inspiring book. Read it.


I expected the Katrina section to have the most impact, but Dan Baum does an excellent job of putting it in perspective by focusing on what really makes New Orleans special: its people. By starting with Hurricane Betsy and deliberately following these nine lives over the foll
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
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
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
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
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Baum shares the heart and soul of New Orleans through the nine lives he showcases.
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
Mar 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
I've been kinda obsessed with New Orleans lately, in particular, Hurricane Katrina and life post storm. I just finished The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley before reading Nine Lives and it was a great primer. While The Great Deluge has plenty of harrowing, courageous stories, it is more fact based, as it should be. Nine Lives is far more character based, with Baum's prose reading almost like fiction. It deals largely with life in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, following the story lines of nine indiv ...more
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone I know
I was incredibly fortunate to have gotten a galley print of this book. The scheduled release date is 2/17/09.

Nine Lives is a non-fiction book about nine different people in New Orleans, spanning 40+ years. The two major events that bracket this time frame are Hurricane Betsey and Hurricane Katrina. However, although these are important events in the book, they are not the entire focus of the book. The story chronicles these nine individuals from different parts of the city and different strata.
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I cannot say enough about Nine Lives by Dan Baum. It is a wonderfully layered and complex look at the city of New Orleans through the eyes of 9 of its citizens. All who share a common love for NOLA and desire to see the best in the city and its people. You will meet unforgettable people such as high school band leader, Wilbert Rawlins, Jr, who invests in his students in moving and fierce ways becoming a parent figure to so many from splintered homes. Ronald Lewis, a street car line repairman tur ...more
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was part of my "Perspectives on New Orleans" weekend. I read "Calla Lily Ponder" right before this book, and needed something a little more gritty to dispel the too-sweet vision of the Crescent City. "Nine Lives" follows nine individuals, and their loved ones and families, through New Orleans, in the years between Betsy and Katrina. Two life defining hurricanes; nine lives significantly changed by them. The writing of this book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the subje ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: may-june-2009

Since 2005, Hurricane Katrina and its immediate effects on New Orleans have been documented in numerous books, such as Breach of Faith, ***1/2 Nov/Dec 2006, and The Great Deluge, ***1/2 Nov/Dec 2006. What Dan Baum accomplishes in Nine Lives, though, is more than a time line of events. Critics unanimously praised the author's approach and style, and they compared Baum's effort to the documentary work of Studs Terkel and John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, even if, at times, hi

Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is without a doubt one of the very best books I have read so far this year. It follows the lives of 9 different people, from the day Hurricane Betsy hit until after Katrina devastated that city many years later. Dan Baum did an absolutely masterful job at crafting each of their unique stories in their own voices and pretty much their own words. It is no secret that N'Awlins is one of my most favorite places and I have been fortunate to be able to go there several times over the years. I lov ...more
Jakey Gee
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Fine work.

As a lifelong devotee of Joe Mitchell (you need him in your life if you haven't read him), I'm a total sucker for literary social reportage of this kind. And if any city - alongside, say, New York and maybe San Francisco - is going to be a host for it, it's got to be New Orleans. It's an approach I also really liked about 'The Warmth of Other Suns' come to think of it, with its similarly powerful story to tell about race.

It has a strong cross-section of characters (slightly uptight c
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This isn't so much a Katrina story as a New Orleans story. It actually starts with Hurricane Betsy in the 60s and follows nine characters lives in different parts of town, with wholly different backgrounds, as they make their way through life in colorful, crazy, challenging New Orleans. It ends with the next apocalyptic storm, Katrina, as if the storms were bookends to the story. Dan Baum is by no means a native - in fact, he had only come down here to cover the story of Katrina for The New York ...more
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great writing. A discursive narrative about nine people in New Orleans (either the most poorly organized city in the U.S. or the most organized city in the Caribbean) by a New Yorker writer. Fascinating glimpses into the lives of nine characters in the aftermath of two hurricanes: Betsy and Katrina. The New Orleanians are all characters of unusual weirdness, and reading about incidents in their lives is hilarious. Very discontinuous vignettes make it hard to keep all nine people straight, but it ...more
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book. Baum does an excellent job of being consistent with the voicing of the various characters in the book and one thing that I think he did especially well, was to use local terms and phrases without explaining each of them, e.g. "neutral ground" (what many of us would refer to as a median--the green space between a divided highway) and "cold drinks" (pop, soda, etc.). This isn't a big deal, but it made me feel more like I was walking around the city with the characters, versu ...more
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Thank you! 2 31 May 29, 2009 01:53PM  
  • Why New Orleans Matters
  • The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square
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  • The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld
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  • The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans
  • The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
  • Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast
  • Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas
  • Where We Know: New Orleans As Home
  • Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City
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  • Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans
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 Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty and Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. He has written numerous articles for such national magazines as ...more
More about Dan Baum...

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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.” 2 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.” 2 likes
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