Ten chapters, arranged in chronological order, highlight major skirmishes in the ongoing war for human control over fire, a war that fire largely seems to be winning. In each case, tactics were in place, from the building materials ordinances of colonial Boston to fireproof building design in 1906 San Francisco. Case after case, however, proves that ordinances are worthless if they’re not enforced (see Baltimore, 1904), and the standing superstructure of an edifice is no protection when the roof and interior floors burn or melt away (as again in Baltimore, and the Twin Towers attack). Although each chapter stands as a self-contained episode, reading the title in its entirety leads the audience to a broader understanding of how human negligence and error and fire’s deviousness and intensity collaborate in the infernos. Unfortunately, when it comes to the physics of fire and the engineering of firefighting equipment, this title comes up somewhat short, with only a scanty background on fire’s behavior and little detail on the incremental improvements in the fire engines on display throughout the book and in an appended gallery. Illustrations are a mixed lot as well, ranging from effective full spreads such as the Cocoanut Grove night club, with its charred tatters of the interior decor that spread the fire, to space fillers such as a scene of “New York City schoolchildren similar to those who perished on the [General] Slocum.” Quotation sources and a glossary are included, as well as lists for further reading, museum visiting, and web browsing, all of which would benefit from annotation. An index will be included in the bound book.
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Cooper, Michael L. Fighting Fire!: Ten of the Deadliest Fires in American History and How We Fought Them. Holt, 2014. [224p] illus. with photographs ISBN 978-0-8050-9714-6 $19.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-7.
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