The Best Books About New Orleans

Four years after Hurricane Katrina, Dan Baum, the author of Nine Lives, picks the best books on New Orleans.

Creole New Orleans: Race and AmericanizationEdited by Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon

This collection of essays is a good place to begin understanding the most varied, vexing, and important word in the New Orleans lexicon: creole.

This collection of essays is a good place to begin understanding the most varied, vexing, and important word in the New Orleans lexicon: creole. No two New Orleanians define creole the same way, it seems. Almost eradicated from the language in the '60swhen black was beautiful and to speak of oneself as creole was to deny one's blackness, the word has made a surprising reappearance since Katrina.

New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty Citizenship, and the Search for the Great Societyby Kent B. Germany

Everything went to hell in the '60s and '70s, and this book is a start at understanding why.

Talk to New Orleanians over about 45—rich or poor, black or white—and they'll tell you that until the mid-'60s New Orleans was paradise. They describe it as racially harmonious, relatively prosperous, and reasonably safe. Everything went to hell in the '60s and '70s, and this book is a start at understanding why.

Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleansby James Gill

Essential reading for understanding New Orleans' central rite.

Mardi Gras is fun! Mardi Gras is happy! Mardi Gras is also profoundly weird and dark at its uptown core. Gill, a popular columnist for the local Times-Picayune casts a jaundiced and unafraid eye on the entire enterprise. Essential reading for understanding New Orleans' central rite.

Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market by Walter Johnson

Johnson brings the slave market alive in all its horror… the reverberations to New Orleans' modern pathologies are easy to trace.

Anybody trying to figure out New Orleans ignores the legacy of slavery at his peril. New Orleans had the largest slave market in the nation—100,000 people were bought and sold there. Johnson brings the place alive in all its horror, and the reverberations to New Orleans' modern pathologies are easy to trace.

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City of Refugeby Tom Piazza

Piazza delivers a much fuller understanding of what happened, on a human level, than all the columns of newsprint or hours of video.

Piazza's underappreciated fictional telling of Hurricane Katrina follows a young white couple and one black Lower Ninth Ward resident through the disaster. Piazza manages to throw a rope around the whole soggy disaster, avoiding cliché and delivering a much fuller understanding of what happened, on a human level, than all the columns of newsprint or hours of video.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Dan Baum has been a staff writer at The New Yorker and a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of Nine Lives, a book about Hurricane Katrina.