In Kakutani's description, Brinkley's is a you-are-there account that reprises the incredible suffering of his city while sketching unsparing portraits of the decision-makers (including the Decider-in-Chief), whose callousness and ineptitude exacerbated the disaster and literally cost lives. Kakutani's only lament seems to be that Brinkley's narrative does not stand back from its subject far enough to take stock of larger economic and environmental questions. However, readers searching for more perspective have Ivor van Heerden's more science-based rendering to turn to for context.
The South African-born van Heerden played Cassandra in the immediate lead-up to Katrina. His dire warnings of levee failure and massive flooding fell on deaf ears right up until the point where the scenario played itself out on television. Van Heerden continues to be a voice in the wilderness, reminding readers in his book that Katrina was not even the big one: He writes that "sometime in the foreseeable future a bigger storm will not take that last-minute jog to the east," and all New Orleans -- not just 80 percent, will be flooded.
What's more, van Heerden asserts that the business-as-usual approach post-Katrina means that, someday soon, "one-fifth of the state of Louisiana — everything south of Interstate 10 including the city of New Orleans in its entirety — will disappear beneath the waves, gone for good, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves." Perhaps now his warnings will be heeded.