Friday, January 8, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #16: Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History by Denise Gess

In October of 1871, a variety of circumstances combined in an unforeseen manner to create of of the most deadly quasi-natural disasters in American history. On the same night as the Great Chicago Fire, a small town in Wisconsin just north of Green Bay named Peshtigo (as well as the surrounding small villages, woods, and farmlands) was struck by a five-mile wide wall of fire, containing within it flying balls, waves, and tornadoes of flame. Between 1200 and 2500 people died, and 1.5 million acres of land were laid to waste.

The book tells not only the stories of the survivors of the disaster, but also of the men and women who heroically took charge to help out, the barons of industry whose greed made the conditions needed for the fire possible, and the men of the US's fledgling weather service whose warnings went unheeded.

The book is very well-researched, and includes a great many reference notes in the back which add to its informative nature. Although I found the book slightly less personally-effecting than previous fire books I've read, it was an interesting glimpse into a period and regain of American history that I'm not especially familiar with. The going can be a bit slow, but on the whole I'd recommend it to any history/disaster buff.

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