One of America's most acclaimed novelists turns to nonfiction in this powerful re-creation of the great Hartford circus fire, which took the lives of 167 people and forever changed the city and its people.On July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, the big top of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus caught fire during the middle of the afternoon performance. Nine thousand people were inside. The canvas of the big tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline. In seconds, the big top was burning out of control. Bleacher seats were fronted by steel railings with narrow openings; the main exits were blocked by caged chutes in which leopards and lions were maddened by the fire.In re-creating the horrific events of one of America's most cataclysmic civic tragedies, Stewart O'Nan has fashioned both an incomparably gripping narrative and a profound, measured glimpse into the extremes of human behavior under duress. In the madness of the inferno, some, like animal trainer May Kovar and the tragic Bill Curlee (who tossed dozens of children to safety over the lion's chute), would act with superhuman bravery. Others, like the sailor who broke a woman's jaw to get past her, would become beasts. The toll of the fire, and its circumstances, haunt Hartford to the present day - the identity of one young victim, known only as Little Miss 1565, remains an enduring mystery and a source of conflict in the city.But it is the intense, detailed narrative - before, after, and especially during the panic under the burning tent - that will remain with listeners long after they finish this exceptional book.More
"This moving elegy does tribute both to the terrible tragedy and to O'Nan's talent as a writer." (Publishers Weekly)
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Harrowing and brilliantly detailed
- P. M. Morris
Not for the faint of heart!
I enjoy history and this was a piece of history that I knew nothing about. A circus fire that killed 167 people and changed Hartford, Conn. profoundly was very engrossing. The author, (who writes fiction) was very succinct in his facts and looked at every aspect of the fire.
Calamity, the Heppner flood of 1903 by Joann Green Byrd. Both are disaster stories and both bring out the heroics of regular people when confronted with adversity. Both were very empowering stories.
He was adequate, I don't know what he could have done better. I just couldn't put him up there with Scott Brick, John Lee or Nadia May.
The greatest show on earth in flames!
While I liked this book, there were times that the numerous descriptions of the fire victims made me squirm and after a time became so repetitive that it was hard to listen to. Overall I learned a lot and came away with a greater understanding of what someone surviving a disaster of this magnitude deals with day to day.
However, as I said earlier this book was quite gruesome and not for everyone.
- Kristi Richardson