Books Features

Book Forum — Richard Keller’s Fatal Isolation

This article is part of the following series:



Richard Keller’s Fatal Isolation: The Devastating Paris Heat Wave of 2003 is a careful accounting of the toll the heat wave took on those most vulnerable in the neighborhoods surrounding Paris.  The book is about the shape of vulnerability and its amplification over time — in fact, Fatal Isolation requires us to pause on the ideas of risk, vulnerability, and precarity in order to consider the scale, grain, reach, and quality of disaster (natural, designed).  By weaving together official history, epidemiological forecasting, and statistical reckoning — along with what Keller calls “anecdotes,” individual stories that give necessary texture to the invention and indifference of catastrophe — the book tells a story that allows the unease of the event’s chronology to come through: slow and then all of a sudden, concluded but lingering long after all is said and done, a rupture with a long preamble.

What follows is a collection of commentaries that take up Keller’s masterful study in different ways: some are deeply reflective and personal, others more directly highlight the civic, political, and global character of disaster, and underscore the associated alienation and negligence which both precedes and follows seemingly anomalous events. We hope you enjoy the comments on Richard Keller’s Fatal Isolation and his response.


Comments on Richard C. Keller’s Fatal Isolation: The Devastating Paris Heat Wave of 2003 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015):


On Vulnerability and the Anecdote
Sara B. Pritchard
Cornell University

Modernity as a Fragile Milieu
Peter Redfield
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

History, Theory, and Limit Events
Camille Robcis
Cornell University

Bodies of/and Knowledge
Kim Fortun
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Temporality of Disaster
Miriam Ticktin
The New School for Social Research


Richard C. Keller
University of Wisconsin–Madison