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Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicagoby Eric Klinenberg
Synopses & Reviews
On Thursday, July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day in which the temperature would reach 106 degrees. The heat index, which measures how the temperature actually feels on the body, would hit 126 degrees by the time the day was over. Meteorologists had been warning residents about a two-day heat wave, but these temperatures did not end that soon. When the heat wave broke a week later, city streets had buckled; the records for electrical use were shattered; and power grids had failed, leaving residents without electricity for up to two days. And by July 20, over seven hundred people had perished-more than twice the number that died in the Chicago Fire of 1871, twenty times the number of those struck by Hurricane Andrew in 1992and#8212;in the great Chicago heat wave, one of the deadliest in American history.
Heat waves in the United States kill more people during a typical year than all other natural disasters combined. Until now, no one could explain either the overwhelming number or the heartbreaking manner of the deaths resulting from the 1995 Chicago heat wave. Meteorologists and medical scientists have been unable to account for the scale of the trauma, and political officials have puzzled over the sources of the city's vulnerability. In Heat Wave, Eric Klinenberg takes us inside the anatomy of the metropolis to conduct what he calls a "social autopsy," examining the social, political, and institutional organs of the city that made this urban disaster so much worse than it ought to have been.
Starting with the question of why so many people died at home alone, Klinenberg investigates why some neighborhoods experienced greater mortality than others, how the city government responded to the crisis, and how journalists, scientists, and public officials reported on and explained these events. Through a combination of years of fieldwork, extensive interviews, and archival research, Klinenberg uncovers how a number of surprising and unsettling forms of social breakdown-including the literal and social isolation of seniors, the institutional abandonment of poor neighborhoods, and the retrenchment of public assistance programs-contributed to the high fatality rates. The human catastrophe, he argues, cannot simply be blamed on the failures of any particular individuals or organizations. For when hundreds of people die behind locked doors and sealed windows, out of contact with friends, family, community groups, and public agencies, everyone is implicated in their demise.
As Klinenberg demonstrates in this incisive and gripping account of the contemporary urban condition, the widening cracks in the social foundations of American cities that the 1995 Chicago heat wave made visible have by no means subsided as the temperatures returned to normal. The forces that affected Chicago so disastrously remain in play in America's cities, and we ignore them at our peril.
In a cemetery on the southern outskirts of Paris lie the bodies of nearly a hundred of what some have called the first casualties of global climate change. They were the so-called abandoned victims of the worst natural disaster in French history, the devastating heat wave that struck in August 2003, leaving 15,000 dead. They died alone in Paris and its suburbs, and were then buried at public expense, their bodies unclaimed. They died, and to a great extent lived, unnoticed by their neighbors--their bodies undiscovered in some cases until weeks after their deaths.
Fatal Isolation tells the stories of these victims and the catastrophe that took their lives. It explores the multiple narratives of disaster--the official story of the crisis and its aftermath, as presented by the media and the state; the life stories of the individual victims, which both illuminate and challenge the ways we typically perceive natural disasters; and the scientific understandings of disaster and its management. Fatal Isolation is both a social history of risk and vulnerability in the urban landscape and a story of how a city copes with emerging threats and sudden, dramatic change.
On Thursday, July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day on which the temperature would eventually climb to 106 degrees. It was the start of an unprecedented heat wave that would last a full weekand#151;and leave more than seven hundred people dead. Rather than view these deaths as the inevitable consequence of natural disaster, sociologist Eric Klinenberg decided to figure out why so many peopleand#151;and specifically, so many elderly, poor, and isolated peopleand#151;died, and to identify the social and political failures that together made the heat wave so deadly.
Published to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the heat wave, this new edition of Klinenbergand#8217;s groundbreaking book includes a new foreword by the author that reveals what weand#8217;ve learned in the years since its initial publication in 2002, and how in coming decades the effects of climate change will intensify the social and environmental pressures in urban areas around the world.
The forces that affected Chicago so disastrously are growing more dangerous, and more common. We ignore them at our peril.
About the Author
Eric Klinenberg is professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. The recipient of an Individual Projects Fellowship from the Open Society Institute in 2000, he is the coeditor of The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness and a regular contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Prologue: The Urban Inferno
Introduction: The City of Extremes
1. Dying Alone: The Social Production of Isolation
2. Race, Place, and Vulnerability: Urban Neighborhoods and the Ecology of Support
3. The State of Disaster: City Services in the Empowerment Era
4. Governing by Public Relations
5. The Spectacular City: News Organizations and the Representation of Catastrophe
Conclusion: Emerging Dangers in the Urban Environment
Epilogue: Together in the End
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