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Cannonball Read #35 (July 5K Book 3): Fire in the Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy And Its Aftermath by John Esposito

This 5K thing is exhausting. I've actually read all the books but the blogging is killing me.

The issue with my love of disaster books is that while I still enjoy reading them, there is only really so much you can say. "There was a disaster. It was a big disaster. Boy, was it really disastrous. A lot of people died. Whooo, I'm glad I wasn't there. Here's what society learned/gained from this disaster." I guess the things I enjoy about the disaster genre don't really translate well into blog posts. The acts of unimaginable heroism from everyday people are tremendous to read, but lose a lot when taken out of the wider picture. The historical context which frames the disaster adds an element of unexpected education (turns out the guy the Tobin bridge is named after was peripherally involved with the owner of the Cocoanut Grove club and kind of corrupt--although, as I understand it that is not necessarily a bad trait in a Boston politician.)

Even though the basic events are the same (particularly with the fire books, of which this is my 4th...though I haven't gotten around to blogging the others) the details of the story--the exact part that is sort of impossible to extract and put in a review--is what makes each one different and fascinating. There is always that wonder of "What would I have done? Could I have survived? Would I have crawled through the smoke and flames to batter my way through any available exit? Would I have floundered in the darkness only to collapse in a massive pile of humanity in front of a door swinging the wrong way? Would I have just stood in frozen terror as a gush of flame sucked the air and the life right out of my body? What would I do? Could I do it?" One lesson these books impart is that people can never be sure how they'll react until the day of the disaster arrives. Ordinarily tough military men freeze, nervous young busboys and college girls reach deep into themselves and find the strength to accomplish feats of heroism. It could be anybody, really.

The Cocoanut Grove fire was appalling, tragic, horrifying, and worst...mostly preventable. The author of this book goes on to compare it to the events of Rhode Island's Station nightclub fire--greed, neglect, and total disregard for safety from multiple players resulted in great loss of life.

I tried to go find the location where the Grove once stood (according to Wikipedia there is some kind of small memorial in the sidewalk) but I couldn't seem to find it, though whether my failure was due to poor directions or my notoriously poor sense of direction, I don' t know. I guess if a city as old and as active as Boston put up a statue for every disastrous occurrence, there wouldn't be room to move around.

To sum up, the book is quite good, with a lot of well-researched details and fascinating facts. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in disasters or Boston history.


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