Acts of God

The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America

Oxford University Press, 2000 (2nd rev. edition, 2006)

Winner: Ohio Academy of History Outstanding Publication Award


Acts of God is a provocative history of natural disasters in the United States. This revised edition features a new chapter analyzing the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, a disaster Steinberg warned could happen when the book first was published. Focusing on America’s worst natural disasters, Steinberg argues that it is wrong to see these tragedies as random outbursts of nature’s violence or expressions of divine judgment. He reveals how the decisions of business leaders and government officials have paved the way for the greater losses of life and property, especially among those least able to withstand such blows–America’s poor, elderly, and minorities. Seeing nature or God as the primary culprit, Steinberg explains, has helped to hide the fact that some Americans are simply better able to protect themselves from the violence of nature than others.

In the face of revelations about how the federal government mishandled the Katrina calamity, this book is a must-read before further wind and water sweep away more lives. Acts of God is a call to action that needs desperately to be heard.

Critical Acclaim:

A sobering lesson in humanity’s vulnerability to extreme climatic events, especially the impoverished farmer and the urban poor.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Powerfully argued and forcefully written…. Good old-fashioned, hard-headed scholarship, which confirms that some of the most savage critics of capitalism in US academia today are environmental historians…. Acts of God is the perfect book, in fact, to curl up with during the perfect storm.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Steinberg has an unabashedly political agenda in this work, but that does not interfere with him making a powerful point concerning the economics of disaster preparation and recovery…. This is an insightful work that raises serious questions about who really directs our philosophy of disaster preparedness.”—Booklist

“Like all of Ted Steinberg’s work, Acts of God is thought-provoking and has a forceful moral edge.”—Environmental History

“Steinberg’s work is excellent environmental history, and no doubt the environmental justice movement will welcome it.”—Journal of American History

“Environmental historian Ted Steinberg pulls no punches in his latest book, Acts of God…. The book provides a persuasive exposé that proposes that Congress, corporate interests, and various government agencies are partners in the deaths, injuries, and destruction frequently blamed on so-called ‘natural events.’”—Weatherwise

“The power of Steinberg’s argument lies in the disaster shell game it uncovers.”—Contemporary Sociology

“…[an] excellent history of US disaster management”—Times Higher Education Supplement

“The book reads like a work of journalism, not unlike a very long article from the old (pre-Tina Brown) New Yorker magazine.”—Journal of Planning History

“Through abundant evidence and trenchant argument, Steinberg shows that social and economic forces are important in their [natural disasters’] emergence…. a valuable contribution whose message needs to be brought home to politicians and corporate leaders.”—Risk Analysis

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