Experiments: In the dark

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'In the Dark' is a draft of the opening pages of Blackout , a book about the New York City blackout of July 1977 to be published by North Point Press in 2004. The power went out on a hot Wednesday evening and remained out for the entire night and most of the next day. In addition to all the predictable fright and excitement in the skyscrapers and subway tunnels, theatres, concert halls, and stadiums, elevators and ICUs, there was looting and arson in four boroughs. By early Thursday evening, hundreds of stores - in some neighbourhoods whole city blocks - lay in ruins. Firemen responded to three thousand fire alarms, fought a thousand fires, sixty of them serious. Police arrested nearly four thousand people, more than on any other day in the city's history. At a time when the city was in deep financial distress, estimates of losses from theft and fire alone ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Long before the looting was over, people began to argue - argue fiercely - about its causes and meaning. Why did it happen? What had changed since the blackout of 1965 (when there was no looting at all)? Were the looters moved by unemployment, poverty, and despair? Or, more simply, opportunity and greed? Who was to blame? What was to be done? Blackout is a work of creative non-fiction and history, a relatively short book (roughly 50,000 words) in which I write about the experience of the blackout - the many different things that people did when the lights went out - in order to demonstrate the poverty of the debate about why some of those people, the blackout looters, did what they did.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-137
Number of pages15
JournalRethinking History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


  • 1970s
  • 1977
  • Blackout
  • Crime
  • Looting
  • New York City

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