Looking for some background on New Orleans, Louisiana
January 23, 2012 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some books on New Orleans.

After a recent brief stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, I would really like to learn more about the City, its culture, its people, etc.

I was very intrigued by New Orleans while I was there, and I would like to learn more (without becoming a scholar). Can anyone suggest a book on the history or New Orleans, etc, without being "too" dry/academic/history based?

Outside of that, if anyone can suggest a book on Hurricane Katrina and documentaries about Hurricane Katrina, that would be great.

posted by dbirchum to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
As far as documentaries about Hurricane Katrina, you almost certainly want Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, which began filming within a few months after the storm and includes news footage and lots of interviews, both with government officials and with local residents.
posted by josyphine at 6:10 AM on January 23, 2012

Bienville's Dilemma by Richard Campanella is a extraordinary book about the cultural geography of New Orleans. It is surprisingly readable considering how in depth it is.
posted by umbú at 6:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been shoving copies of "Hungry Town" into the hands of every friend who even mentions New Orleans - it's a really fun book about the fascinating culinary culture of the city through the last few decades.
posted by sestaaak at 6:49 AM on January 23, 2012

I really loved Ned Sublette's The World That Made New Orleans.
posted by neroli at 7:20 AM on January 23, 2012

No collection is complete without A Confederacy of Dunces, and if you want a true accounting of life as a hot dog vendor in New Orleans, there's Managing Ignatius.
posted by Runes at 7:31 AM on January 23, 2012

Highly recommend Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans, by Times-Picayune columnist James Gill.

An entertaining read about late 19th century New Orleans is Herbert Asbury's The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld. This is the same guy that wrote Gangs of New York.

Former NPR commentator and New Orleans resident Andrei Codrescu has written a lot of fun and very insightful essays on New Orleans. Try the recent compilation New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City.

Although not specifically about New Orleans, John Barry's Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America is in many ways New Orleans-centric. It is an incredible read and wildly popular in New Orleans, even though it doesn't reflect particularly well on the city's power elite.

Another favorite on my bookshelf is The Last Madame: A Life In The New Orleans Underworld. It's a well-researched book about a New Orleans madame in the mid-20th century.

I'll second whoever recommended Richard Campanella.
posted by chicxulub at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

1 Dead in Attic by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, a collection of stories about life directly after Katrina hit is an excellent read.

As a slight derail on looking for books about New Orleans, but fitting in with your request for accessible content, I'd also recommend you check out Treme, a TV series embraced by locals as "an accurate and honest representation of the city".

Finally, for some background music while you read, you can't beat WWOZ, a radio station that "specializes in music from or relating to the cultural heritage of New Orleans and the surrounding region of Louisiana".

As a bit of a "NOLAphile", I'm looking forward to investigating some of the books recommended above.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 8:09 AM on January 23, 2012

Wow, I just finished reading Dan Baum's Nine Lives. Absolutely exhilarating, terrifying, yet fun to read. Baum was sent by the New Yorker to cover Katrina two days after the flood, and ended up moving to New Orleans. He did hundreds of hours of interviews with the nine people he profiles in the book, and manages to capture so many diverse, yet eerily connected stories of lives well before, during and after the storm.
posted by obscurator at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2012

Seconding Treme; its setting is a couple years after Katrina, and in addition to being accurate, is also dealing with some of the city's recovery.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2012

I really enjoyed the book Night Jasmine - I don't think it's very well-known outside of New Orleans, but it is required reading at several local high schools. The author is a local historian, and supposedly as far as historical fiction goes it's very accurate. Full warning that it's a romance novel, but it does give a good feel for the area about 100 years ago.

Dave Eggers wrote a non-fiction book called Zeitoun (pronounced ZAY-toon), about a man's experiences being stuck in New Orleans after Katrina. It's great.

I've never read Rising Tide (600+ page history books are not my style) but my dad loved it. OTOH, I've also never read Hungry Town but Tom Fitzmorris is well-known locally and I would imagine that the book is good.
posted by radioamy at 2:01 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Zeitoun!
posted by obscurator at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2012

The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld. The life and times of Norma Wallace, who ran a brothel in the French Quarter from the 1920s to the 1960s, before it became "Six Flags Over Bourbon Street." A streetwalker at 15 and a brothel owner at 20, she knew a lot of power players; hell, she was a power player. (Wallace reportedly was the only whorehouse owner in New Orleans’ recorded history to receive the Key to the City from the mayor and council.)

My father, who was a scholarship student at a private school as a working-class N.O. teenager, says Wallace's place of business was so well-known, "it practically had a listing in the Yellow Pages."

Wallace and the local criminal justice system played cat and mouse, sometimes to her advantage (the cops often gave her a heads-up before some pious higher-up ordered a raid on bawdy houses), other times to her disadvantage (she learned some tough lessons from her dealings with New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, the famous Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist). I recommend it highly.
posted by virago at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2012

« Older My lovely little lump   |   I don't want to get in trouble! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.