Friday, November 19, 2010

Acts of God by Ted Steinburg~★★★★

Author: Ted Steinburg
Title: Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America
Release Date: July 20th, 2006
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "As the waters of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain began to pour into New Orleans, people began asking the big question---could any of this have been avoided? How much of the damage from Hurricane Katrina was bad luck, and how much was poor city planning?
Steinburg's Acts of God is a provocative history of natural disasters in the United States. This revised edition features a new chapter analyzing the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, a disaster Steinburg warned could happen when the book was first published. Focusing on America's worst natural disasters, Steinburg argues that it is wrong to see these tragedies as random outbursts of nature's violence or expressions of divine judgment. He reveals how the decisions of business leaders and government officials have paved the way for greater losses of life and property, especially among those least able to withstand such blows---America's poor, elderly, and minorities. Seeing nature or God as the primary culprit, Steinburg explains, has helped to hide the fact that some Americans are simply better able to protect themselves from the violence of nature than others. 
In the face of revelations about how the federal government mishandled the Katrina calamity, this book is a must-read before further wind and water sweep away more lives. Acts of God is a call to action that needs desperately to be heard."

Taryn's Review: I used to work for a company based out of California. While I was thousands of miles apart from my co-workers, we often chatted via Skype. One thing we often talked about was the differences between the West Coast and the Midwest. One thing in particular that we discussed extensively was earthquakes. I still cannot get over their nonchalant attitudes about earthquakes. I mean, the EARTH moves! Obviously I won't be moving to California anytime soon!

But this "normalization" of what are natural occurrences that can cause disaster was what Steinburg focused on in his book. In the case of California, Steinburg highlighted the 1906 earthquakes in San Francisco. The government of San Francisco, the government of California, and the business leaders argued that a fire in the aftermath of the earthquake caused so much damage, not the earthquake. In fact, all three sectors argued that California was not a seismic move on out to California! (Laughable today, no?)

Why do we do this: move to places that obviously pose a higher threat to our lives than other places? Steinburg talked about how these "natural disasters" moved away from being seen as acts of God to science, but today seems to have shifted back to believing that acts of God are responsible when nature overtakes man's defenses against it. Why do city planners and builders drain natural barriers, destroy forest protection, and more when they know in the long run this removal could have detrimental effects on the city and the people living there?

This book was very readable and passed the time quickly for me. I really enjoyed the section about how agencies actually tried to alter weather through "cloud seeding" and dumping various chemicals and compounds into the eye of storms to see if we as humans could alter the path of storms. Sometimes farmers and other people hired out people to try and change the weather patterns to aid their crops. Crazy stuff! It was super interesting. History and weather buffs will like this one!

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