The story of a band of mothers in the 1970s who discovered Hooker Chemical's secret dumping in the Love Canal—near New York's Niagara Falls—and exposed one of America's most devastating toxic waste disasters, sparking the environmental movement as we know it today.
[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.