[A] propulsive account ... A masterpiece of narrative detail that could spring only from asking the right questions of the right people and digging through mountains of research. It reads like a thriller, but only because O’Brien has done the legwork necessary to put the pieces together. The book is first and foremost a mighty work of historical journalism, rooted in the stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances, and discovering that they’re not so ordinary after all ... Paradise Falls is as much about the human response as the disaster itself ... Similar stories, such as “A Civil Action” and “Erin Brockovich,” focus on individual heroes who risk it all to take on corporate polluters. O’Brien does something more difficult. He makes the entire community his protagonist. He introduces each character as a novelist might, developing them and tracing their actions carefully, allowing them to become parts of the bigger picture ... Paradise Falls is a gloriously quotidian thriller about people forced to find and use their inner strength. After all these years, they are fortunate to have a chronicler as focused and thoughtful as O’Brien. He brings their courage back to life.
Keith O’Brien offers a panoramic perspective of the galvanizing incident that resulted in the passage of the 1980 Superfund Act ... O’Brien’s voluminous sources for this sprawling story include contemporary news reports, primary sources, documents obtained via FOIA requests, and extensive personal interviews. His narrative style is similarly thorough, pivoting with prismatic frequency among the perspectives of the many people involved in this complex story ... O’Brien offers occasional glimpses into their personal lives, but his focus is less on developing an emotional landscape for his 'characters' than it is on tracking their motivations and interests. This approach underscores the fundamental issues that arose from the Love Canal disaster: Who was responsible for this, and perhaps even more importantly, who would pay? ... O’Brien’s narrative seems oddly timeless. This is in part due to his spare, clean prose and minimal references to groovy cultural touchstones. But it also may be because this story’s themes are timeless: environmental exploitation, corporate greed and irresponsibility, and the power of grassroots activism to create change. That Paradise Falls can be so easily mapped on to our present is both disappointing and inspiring.
Richly detailed ... The author takes pains to show that the ensuing health crisis—ignored at first by state authorities—became a national and international obsession for months because of the outrage of neighborhood families ... Drawing on some 130 hours of interviews and newly accessed documents, the author tells the entire raucous story with fervor and immediacy. He captures the ire and passion of the Love Canal community ... Younger readers will find themselves swept up in this intense account of a notorious toxic waste disaster nearly four decades ago. Other will gain new understanding of the complexities of 'Love Canal.' Exhaustive yet eminently readable, Paradise Falls is a wonderful achievement—a splendid work of storytelling.
O’Brien’s...meticulously researched and gripping history of the massive environmental disaster at Love Canal draws readers into the unrest, anxiety, and bewilderment of everyday people discovering their beloved neighborhood is poisoned and deadly ... This Love Canal story exposes the nation’s utter unpreparedness to respond to that public health crisis and is very timely during the COVID pandemic. This authoritative book deserves a wide audience and should provoke reflection on just how much we have progressed in the 45 years since the Love Canal disaster.
Paradise Falls is a narrative resplendent with ordinary people who stood up against overwhelming odds. The text blisters with details of the hard work and outrage that fueled what became a key instigator of Superfund legislation. O’Brien has accomplished an outstanding work of investigative journalism and created a riveting title that should be on the shelf with The Poisoned City (2018) and Exposure (2019). Book clubs will spend hours discussing this one.
Journalist O’Brien...delivers an immersive portrait of the citizen-activists who brought the Love Canal environmental disaster to light ... O’Brien’s fluid retelling includes many startling anecdotes, including the time a local activist held two EPA officials hostage, and offers insight into how Love Canal transformed from a local disaster into national news. Readers will gain newfound appreciation for the regular people whose crusade for justice helped catalyze the modern environmental movement.
Evacuation of homes, relocation of residents, and toxic remediation work all proved daunting, as O'Brien's patient chronology of the crisis bears out ... A thorough retelling of an environmental tragedy and a renewed call for corporate accountability.