Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

Full Interview with Rebecca Solnit

*Note: this is the full-length interview. You can also find a shorter version of this interview here on our site.

In the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, or the Loma Prieta Earthquake, author Rebecca Solnit collected hundreds of interviews and spent time in various disaster zones. What she found is contrary to what the media often reports: in times of crisis, humans have shown themsevles to be deeply communitarian, altruistic, brave, and improvisational.

Here Solnit, author of California Reads selected book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, shares her thoughts on how we function within and what we really need from society. She speaks about our common desire for love and agency, a desire to contribute a voice and to be heard. While many believe that disasters turn us into chaotic and stampeding herds, Solnit asserts that times of crisis provide rare openings during which she has witnessed astonishing acts of humanity. These openings, she says, provide the building blocks for a truer and healthier democracy.

For 2012, the California Reads program was part of our Searching for Democracy initiative.

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