Catastrophe’s silver lining

It’s hard to see the upside of a natural—or national—disaster like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11. But might there actually be a benefit from instances of mass destruction? Author Rebecca Solnit thinks so: In her new book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, she travels back in time and around the globe to illustrate how good can actually come from things that go horribly wrong.

Canvassing a handful of well-known disasters—from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake up through Katrina—and taking a few detours along the way, Solnit shows how in the wake of terrible happenings, people tend to find the very best in themselves. Along with the euphoria of survival comes an openness to community and togetherness that we often long for but are unable to find in our day-to-day lives. (Not to mention parties and parades!) It would, of course, be better if there were no loss of life, or if the earth didn’t quake. But Solnit reminds us that when these things do happen, all is not lost. Some things are found.

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Catastrophe’s silver lining