Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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p. vii

List of Abbreviations

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p. ix

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Introduction

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pp. 1-20

‘‘Here is an example of a steel structure subjected to the impacts of a fully loaded, fueled 747 airplane.’’ With the lights dimmed in the hearing chamber, engineering professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl narrated a computer simulation for the House Science Committee. ‘‘Here is the plane approaching that building at 450 miles...

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1. The Devil’s Privilege

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pp. 21-61

Disasters threatened and destroyed industrializing American cities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a ferocity that challenged the notion of modernity itself as a sustainable urban condition. Chicago’s infamous 1871 fire leveled whole neighborhoods as well as the entire business district in a three-day blaze. Boston (1872) and Seattle (1889) fared only slightly better. Financial losses...

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2. Reforming Fire

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pp. 62-109

Fire in the Conflagration Era exposed a crisis in American government. Expert knowledge and techniques were increasingly available to protect citizens and their property, but government officials struggled to apply the work of the disaster experts to the challenges of reforming the governance of urban fire. The stakes of this failure in policy...

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3. The Invisible Screen of Safety

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pp. 110-161

By World War II, American fire experts would comprise a powerful network, capable of conducting costly risk research and quickly implementing knowledge into the realms of manufacturing, the built environment, and public policy directed at preventing fire disasters. Their ‘‘invisible screen of safety’’ was composed...

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4. Ten to Twenty Million Killed, Tops

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pp. 162-208

George C. Scott’s performance as General Buck Turgidson in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is notable, hilarious even, for the utter sincerity and optimism with which he rationalizes the mass civilian deaths that will result from a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Of course, it may...

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5. What Is a Disaster?

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pp. 209-249

In 1951 the U.S. Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) released a film based on its widely circulated publication Survival Under Atomic Attack.1 The eight-minute film advises its viewers—Americans facing the first hot moment of the Cold War, with fighting underway on the Korean Peninsula—as to exactly how they...

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6. A Nation of Hazards

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pp. 250-298

What is it like always to live right on the edge of disaster? This is the question raised by Don DeLillo’s 1984 National Book Award-winning novel White Noise. In White Noise the disaster is a ‘‘toxic airborne event,’’ a billowing cloud of ‘‘Nyodene D’’ released in a rail accident exposing the protagonist, a college professor (of Hitler...

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Conclusion

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pp. 299-312

Sally Regenhard holding a photo of her son, a fireman killed on September 11 (see page 285). It is a moment of collective grief, one in which we ask ourselves: how do we wish to live? Is unwanted death and destruction always the trade-off for technological risk-taking and relentless American modernization? And if it is, then shouldn’t...

Notes

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pp. 313-344

Index

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pp. 345-347

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 348-350

One name goes on the author line, but that is misleading. It is unthinkable that I would have finished this book without the consistent help and support of family, friends, and many close colleagues. I know many of them secretly wondered, when is he going to stop talking about John Ripley Freeman, or the ‘‘UL Falling Safe...