Douglas Brinkley: Chronicling 'The Great Deluge'

Historian Douglas Brinkley, author of the John Kerry biography Tour of Duty, was on NPR’s Fresh Air on Friday morning talking about his experiences in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Brinkley teaches at Tulane University and was displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

After Katrina, Brinkley got his family out and relocated them to Houston, TX and then returned to New Orleans to chronicle the history of the aftermath of Katrina. He is in the process of documenting “the catastrophe by gathering oral histories — he hopes to collect as many as 20,000 — for a book, tentatively titled The Great Deluge.”

Brinkley said in the interview that he was determined to document everything that he could, “because if our government can turn their backs on these people in need, they will try to whitewash what happened… make it seem like it was God’s storm and there was not much that could be done. I think it’s…. the story is much bigger than that.”

“I was in New Orleans for Katrina and then got out of town afterwards and I came back. I was… I constantly encountered people on dry land, mainly FEMA people trying to stop rescue attempts of people who were desperate for help and that startled me that this could happen in our country.”

During the interview Doug Brinkley also talked about taking part in rescue efforts in New Orleans, his frustrations with the how things have been handled there since and witnessing the Mississippi running backwards during the hurricane. Brinkley plans to donate all proceeds to the Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum and research center in the city’s French Quarter.

“I’m very disappointed in my country… I write American history for a living, I love America”, Brinkley said.

Listen to the entire interview here.

A Personal Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Douglas Brinkley in NH during the primary. I was standing in the press area of Kerry campaign holding a copy of Tour of Duty in my arms on top of my coat. Suddenly this smiling man appeared next to me and said, ” I wrote that book!” He seemed to be thrilled to run across someone in the crowded press area holding his book. I was thrilled to meet him and have him autograph my copy of Tour of Duty.
NH Primary 2004

Thank you, Doug Brinkley for all you do… It’s people like you who give us hope.

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About Pamela Leavey

Pamela Leavey is the Editor in Chief, Owner/Publisher of The Democratic Daily as well as a freelance writer and photographer. Pamela holds a certificate in Contemporary Communications from UMass Lowell, a Journalism Certificate from UMass Amherst and a B.A. in Creative Writing and Digital Age Communications from UMass Amherst UWW.
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8 Responses to Douglas Brinkley: Chronicling 'The Great Deluge'

  1. florida dem says:

    I saw a pic of Doug Brinkley & Sean Penn on the cover of USA Today in a rescue boat searching for survivors. I’m glad he’ll be one of the historians documenting the truth about this event – minus the ShrubCo spin.

  2. Florida Dem

    How cool. I was blown away when I listened to the interview with Doug Brinkley. He’s one of those real deal sort of people. I look forward to hearing more on what he’s doing down there.

  3. Marjorie G says:

    I met him at a book tour in NY for Tour of Duty, and I sensed real respect for Kerry because of who he researched and what he heard. He mentioned that not all were thrilled and had not healed from the anti-war movement.

    Little did we know.

  4. Todd says:


    Great post. Brinkley really is *the* historian of our generation. I heard the NPR interview that afternoon and was thrilled he was chronicling the disaster for another book. And of course “Tour of Duty” was a great read.

    BTW, for those Jack Kerouac fans out there, Brinkley has edited a volume of his journals that came out last year, and he was Hunter Thompson’s official biographer too (he broke the news last week of Thompson’s “suicide note”).

  5. Todd

    I forgot about Doug doing the Kerouac journals and did not know that he broke the Hunter Thompson suicide note. I’m actually curious to read his latest biography of Reagan, though no fan of Reagan at all, it may very well be a good read.

  6. Dave says:

    florida dem,

    If you search for “Hurricane Katrina” on, several books come up. It looks like Brinkley’s is the bestseller so far, even though it won’t be in print until April 2006!

  7. Dave Says: October 2nd, 2005 at 10:15 am

    That’s wonderful news Dave. Thanks. I will put in on our book list.

  8. Mary Anne Martin says:

    I totally agree with what you’re saying. I wish more people felt this way and took the time to express themselves. Keep up the great work.
    Mary Anne Martin