Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review-- Nine Lives

Title: Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans
Author: Dan Baum
ISBN: 9780385523196/ Spiegel & Grau, 2009
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: A

First Line: Ronald Lewis walked past one ruined cottage after another.

Dan Baum moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to write about the city's response to the disaster for The New Yorker. What he discovered was that Katrina wasn't the most interesting thing about the city. The question that he felt compelled to answer was this:
Why are New Orleanians so devoted to a place that was, even before the hurricane, the most corrupt, impoverished, and violent corner of America?

His answer is Nine Lives, a truly fascinating book that is not only informative, but is also an emotionally and artistically satisfying gourmet meal for readers.

Baum tells us about the lives of nine New Orleanians whose lives are bracketed by two hurricanes: Betsy, which transformed the city in the 1960s, and Katrina. These people cross the lines of age, race, class and gender. They are Mardi Gras Kings, jazz-playing coroners, ex-cons, transsexual barkeeps, women with dreams of white picket fences, and more. As each one spoke to me, I found myself hearing that person's voice. I was transported to the Lower Ninth, to a mansion on St. Charles, to a makeshift mortuary.

"I'm a lawyer," Billy said. "Neither my firm nor the companies I own possess the kinds of resources the city needs." He sat forward, rubbing his palms together. "But this is my idea. The collective wealth around this table must be in the billions. Why doesn't each of us, personally, pledge a million dollars cash to the recovery. We can go out of this room and announce that we have sixty million dollars cash on hand: the business community's stake in recovery. Today." He leaned on his forearms and looked around the room expectantly.

No one spoke....

Each of these nine people transcended print and became very real to me, and made New Orleans real to me in a way it had never been before. I cared about these people, I laughed and cried and became angry with these people. I was involved.

There's not much more you can say about a reading experience. Nine Lives is available today. Get yourself a copy.

[Quotes are from an advanced reader's copy and may be modified in the published work.]


  1. Sounds fascinating and very moving. I'll have to keep this one in mind.

  2. I can't wait to read this one.

  3. Beth--the way Baum deals with characterization is wonderful. Everything you learn, you learn from these nine people. Since they're from all walks of life, there's a lot of information and a lot of passion.

    I hope you enjoy it, Kathy!

  4. Great review! Gave me all I need to know ... and I know this book sounds like something I would like! Good job!

  5. Sounds excellent, and I have every reason to read it. My best friend and her husband have only recently finished repairing their N.O. home. Great review -- thanks!


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