Natural disasters force us to think about man vs. nature, a conflict that is no doubt in many of our minds as we watch devastating footage from Haiti.
Considering this, I attended historian Jeffrey Jackson’s talk at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville with great interest. Jackson’s latest book (published January 5 by Palgrave Macmillan) is titled Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910.
The Flood of 1910 is fascinating because it has long existed, in the words of Jackson, “in the realm of myth and legend.” The author argues that because the flood occurred in 1910—between the Dreyfus affair (a political scandal that divided France) and World War I—it has faded into the background of more prominent historical events.
Most Parisians’ knowledge of the Flood is based on postcard images, which remain collectable. According to Jackson, prior to his publication there was only one book on the event—a picture book from 1997—although families do pass down stories of how their ancestors dealt with the rising waters. Jackson explained: “[The Flood] is not totally forgotten, but not totally remembered.”
In Paris Under Water, Jackson explores how communities came together and, against all odds, saved Paris in the midst of collapsing infrastructure, looters and failed electricity and public transportation. Although media images from natural disasters typically represent chaos, Jackson explained that in uncontrollable, dangerous situations “people generally pull together. . . collaborate to save themselves.”
Although he promises no bullet-pointed list of “what to do in a disaster,” Jackson did say that his research has made him think about “how and why communities are viable, how communities form.”
Read Jackson’s book for yourself to learn why the Great Flood of 1910 was a “perfect storm situation,” and how Parisians triumphed over nature to save the city they loved. This book has contemporary relevance and incredible detail. For a preview, visit Jackson’s website: Paris Under Water.
Anyone interested in urban planning, disaster relief or French history would enjoy Paris Under Water — and lucky for you, we’re giving away an AUTOGRAPHED copy. Respond by Wednesday for a chance to win: What is your favorite work of nonfiction?
For another take on what happens after natural disaster, read journalist Jed Horne’s behind-the-book essay on Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City.