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The Circus Fire Audiobook

The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy

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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2001 Stewart O'Nan; (P)2004 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"This moving elegy does tribute both to the terrible tragedy and to O'Nan's talent as a writer." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Angela willis 11-29-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Compelling"

    Well-written, compelling, moving story. I enjoyed it even though parts are heart-breaking.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Knitting Nerd Melbourne, Australia 12-22-08
    Knitting Nerd Melbourne, Australia 12-22-08 Member Since 2007
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    "Brilliant but too distressing"

    It is very hard to give this book a star rating because my feelings about it are too mixed. It is fascinating, brilliantly researched and very detailed, but I cannot recommend it. The scene is set so clearly you can imagine in quite a lot of detail what is described - and therein lies the problem. I found I could not get more than half way through listening to it. The details of the deaths and injuries, the state of the corpses and the agonies the victims would have experience were so harrowing I found myself in tears a number of times and haunted by the descriptions for a long time. It is a good book, but be warned as to its content.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    linthereader 07-04-17 Member Since 2014
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    2
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    Story
    "Some good history on a bigone era"

    I had just visited the Ringling Museum in Sarasota and was looking for further info on it's circus. Whereas this story has some interesting historical information, there was a little too much descriptions of the burned victims and those who didn't make it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth B. Brandt 08-17-12
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    "Intriguing and Interesting -- Goes on a bit long"

    I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting and intriguing. The narration was excellent. I gave the book a 3 because I think the writer takes too long to resolve a couple of the story lines.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fred port dover, Ontario, Canada 12-31-10
    fred port dover, Ontario, Canada 12-31-10 Member Since 2009
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    "a long day"

    just one sad story after another, more like an endless sad news report than a book

    1 of 8 people found this review helpful

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