Monday, August 30, 2010

Bienville's Dilemma

 Bienville's Dilemma sounds like a very good book on New Orleans.

"The idea of a dilemma," Campanella said, "has helped me come to terms with our challenges here, mostly in issues of land loss and natural hazard risks, if you think of them as dilemmas first and problems second. First and foremost, there are the choices we have to make based on value judgments, and once the difficult choice is made you have a problem that can be solved by good science and engineering. But your first choice may render an unforeseen consequence. I find all this intellectually stimulating as well as morally challenging." 

Campanella is such a riveting writer that he can make anything fascinating -- the composition of soil; the battle for control of water; patterns of settlement in the city; the history of Creolism, which he calls "our home-grown ethnicity"; the ways in which we have "scored and scoured" the land, with canals and levees, structures that were originally designed for our safety but have become sources of hazard; the way we have made groceries since the very beginning; the pride of being a New Orleans native; the developments of wards and faubourgs.


  1. I took a class in historical geography and remember reading other work by this writer. This one might be very good. Geography really is destiny in many ways.

    I had sort of given up on watching the news straight through like I did during the election, so try to catch Rachel Maddow from time to time on the web. Her piece on the engineering of New Orleans that I posted earlier is very good. Plus, she gets to go to a fish restaurant to check out how the oil spill has affected the catch. In great New Orleans tradition, she's served a "milk" morning cocktail. What a city!

  2. This sounds like a good one for us to take a look at. My high school world history teacher had a thing about geography; we spent a lot of time contemplating rivers, mountain passes, feverish marshes. Prepped me for the joys of reading Fernand Braudel many years later. Now I think I could get some good out of Bienville's book.