On the afternoon of December 30, 1903, during a sold-out matinee performance, a fire broke out in Chicago's Iroquois Theatre. In the short span of twenty minutes, more than six hundred people were asphyxiated, burned, or trampled to death in a panicked mob's failed attempt to escape. In Chicago Death Trap: The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903, Nat Brandt provides a detailed chronicle of this horrific event to assess not only the titanic tragedy of the fire itself but also the municipal corruption and greed that kindled the flames beforehand and the political cover-ups hidden in the smoke and ash afterwards.
Advertised as "absolutely fireproof," the Iroquois was Chicago's most modern playhouse when it opened in the fall of 1903. With the approval of the city's building department, theater developers Harry J. Powers and William J. Davis opened the theater prematurely to take full advantage of the holiday crowds, ignoring flagrant safety violations in the process.
The aftermath of the fire proved to be a study in the miscarriage of justice. Despite overwhelming evidence that the building had not been completed, that fire safety laws were ignored, and that management had deliberately sealed off exits during the performance, no one was ever convicted or otherwise held accountable for the enormous loss of life.
Chicago Death Trap: The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903 is rich with vivid details about this horrific disaster, captivatingly presented in human terms without losing sight of the broader historical context.
©2003 Nat Brand (P)2013 Redwood Audiobooks
“Brandt deftly lays out the story of a tragedy waiting to happen in a city with a corrupt government and greedy businessmen... Brandt's carefully documented, readable account reminds us what all the shouting was about.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
“This superior piece of historical investigative journalism will keep readers turning the pages until the bitter end.” (Booklist)
Terrific recap of the run-up to, the fire itself, and aftermath of the tragedy. Filled with interesting detail on the world of the theatre at the turn of the century.
One of the best.
I would compare this to any of David McCullough's works. The author took a well known historic event and told what happened from many points of view so that you got the whole, real picture in the end.
Yes, on a long road trip.
The tragic events in this book are hard to hear about, but anyone intending to design or build public buildings should be required to listen or read it. The best way to prevent repeating bad history is to know about it.
Yes, it is a really interesting story (but very sad).
I loved all the historical detail about the theatre and its neighbourhood; it gave the story so much more interest than a straight description of the disaster.
"Fascinating topic, poorly executed"
This book covers the historical detail well. It starts by setting the scene at the turn of the century Chicago in terms of the city and the people in general. It describes the building of the theatre, the disaster itself and the after effects including trying to find someone to blame. The start of each chapter details a piece of fire code (regulation) in operation at the time. However, there is a real lack of personal and emotional depth to the writing.
The subject matter makes obvious comparisons with Stewart O'Nan's book about the big circus fire and Paul Benzaquin's 'Holocaust' about the nightclub fire at Cocoanut Grove in Boston. However what these other books do makes them far superior in my opinion. They focus on the people in the disaster. We learn about who they are, what led them to be involved in the disaster and what happened afterwards. These authors take time to make the reader care about characters whereas in The Iroquios Fire we are given lots of history and fire regulations, but very little personal detail. The sections about the horrific fire are done well and are emotional in places, but this is too brief. The disaster takes only about 2 hours of the 7.5 hours listening time.
It must be difficult to narrate such a horrific true story and the Narrator keeps a serious tone throughout. However this made it terribly dull to listen to. He also pauses at odd places sometimes and it sounds like he is reading to the end of line in a book and taking a pause, regardless of punctuation.
Overall this is worthwhile because it is true, it is history and we can realise how lucky we are today to be protected by rules and regulations that care for our safety. I didn't know anything about this disaster and so found it very educational, however it is a dull listen. I also felt that a more personal and human story could have been crafted from historical sources.
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