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Paperback Triangle : The Fire That Changed America Book

ISBN: 080214151X

ISBN13: 9780802141514

Triangle : The Fire That Changed America

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Book Overview

"Sure to become the definitive account of the fire. . . . Triangle is social history at its best, a magnificent portrayal not only of the catastrophe but also of the time and the turbulent city in which it took place." --The New York Times Book Review Triangle is a poignantly detailed account of the 1911 disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations. On March 25, 1911, as workers were...

Customer Reviews

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From the author

Richard Peladeau has leapt to a mistaken conclusion in his review of my book.The young woman he mentions in his review, Rosie Freedman, did, in fact, die in the fire, and her life story is an important part of "Triangle." She was born in Bialystok, Poland, in the early 1890s. In 1906--as a young teenager--she survived one of the deadliest pogroms in Russian history. Her family then sent her, alone, across Europe to board a steamship for the crossing to New York. After clearing Ellis Island, she went to live with an aunt and uncle who were already in New York. It's likely she had never met them.At age 14, Rosie managed to earn enough in the garment factories to pay her room and board, cover her expenses, and send money home to support the family she left behind.Rosie Freedman died in the Triangle fire, on March 25, 1911.About 350 workers survived that fire. One was a teenager named Rose Rosenfeld. Years later, she married a man named Freedman, and Rose Rosenfeld became Rose Freedman. Mr. Peladeau is correct that Rose Rosenfeld-Freedman lived to the age of 107, and was the longest-lived survivor of the fire.This is all explained in the end notes of "Triangle." Mr. Peladeau is wrong. These are two entirely different people. This is not a major mistake--in fact, as other reviewers have noted, "Triangle" contains more information about the lives of the Triangle factory workers than any previous book on this subject.--David Von Drehle

How The World of 1911 Shaped The World We Live In Today

If you read this book...prepare to be shocked. Prepare to be outraged. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the ninth floor of a building in New York City. The eighth, ninth and tenth floors of this structure were home to a successful blouse-making firm, the Triangle Waist Company. In the panic and pandemonium that followed, 146 people, the majority of them young immigrant women, lost their lives. Some were burned to death; some jumped, even though they knew they would perish, to avoid the horror of the flames; others plunged down an elevator shaft or were killed when an overloaded fire escape collapsed. It was the worst workplace disaster in New York history until the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, and author David Von Drehle brings these faceless victims back to life so that we realize the true magnitude of their loss. This is a riverting work of narrative history that also places the events described in the larger context of the societal changes that followed. The Triangle fire came a little more than a year after a major labor uprising among the garment workers that marked an important elevation in their status. The story of this strike is one of the main themes leading up to the tragedy; the other is a picture of Tammany Hall, the machine that controlled New York politics for generations. In the wake of the disaster, there was an outpouring of grief and sympathy and support for the survivors...and very real fears that the larger lessons of the disaster would be forgotten. Although a criminal trial against the Triangle's owners many not have produced the moral victory many had hoped, the strong currents of change flowing through society could not be stopped. Von Drehle documents how Tammany, realizing its survival was at stake, shifted from a force of reaction to a force of change. Although Tamany policeman had harassed and beaten participants in the 1909 strike, reformers and politicians, including Al Smith, Robert Wagner and Frances Perkins, would go on to accomplish significant reforms in workplace safety conditions--and with Tammany's backing. Ultimately, Von Drehle argues, this wave of change peaked with the rise of urban liberalism and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. In Von Drehle's gifted storytelling, the lost world of almost a century ago lives again. Read this book, and better understand how that world of yesterday shaped the one we live in today.--William C. Hall

From Fire to Reform

I normally avoid books that focus on horrific events in history because they mostly exploit and sensationalize the disaster for their authors' obvious motive: profit. David Von Drehle has no interest in exploiting this exceptionally terrible moment in New York's--and even America's--history. His compassion for the victims, his admiration for the reformers, and his loathing for those who caused and profited from the fire is obvious on every page, and in every word.Framed by the scorn and indifference toward laborers before the fire, and the realization of guilt that led to the rush to reform after it, the events of March 25, 1911 are heartbreakingly described by Mr. Von Drehle's vivid prose. But the description of the actual fire is only part of the book. He doesn't linger over the gruesome details to satisfy some cruel, voyeuristic hunger that some readers might have expected. There's just enough narrative to convey the chaos, terror and sadness of the event. To prevent the story from getting too morbid, the author diligently included the many individual acts of heroism by police, firemen, passersby and neighboring NYU students.The main purpose of the book, as the subtitle explains, is to demonstrate how the Triangle catastrophe profoundly affected Tammany Hall, New York City and State government, the federal governemt, the labor union movement, socialists, and Democrats. The dedication of the reformers and labor leaders like Al Smith, Frances Perkins, Robert Wagner, Sr., Clara Lemlich, and so on, is also highlighted. The owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, receive the vilification they deserve. And somewhere in the moral gray area are the two most enigmatic figures: Tammany leader Charles Murphy and the attorney for Blanck and Harris, Max Steuer.One last note: the book is a fascinating history of the history of the disaster. By that I mean that Mr. Von Drehle reports how others before him--the newspapers, Attorney Steuer, Clara Lemlich, and Leon Stein--recounted the events of that dark day, and how frighteningly close we came to losing these records (especially Steuer's). It represents the debt we owe to Mr. Von Drehle's dogged research, as well as the debt he owes his predecessors. Amazing.Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points

Social history at its best

David Von Drehle's "Triangle" is social history at its best. He re-examines this tragic event, which had been relocated to a footnote in history, and places it in a broad historical context. He minimizes the sensational aspects of the tragedy and fully illuminates the social conditions that led to it, as well as workplace and political changes that flowed from it. That is not to say, however, that he does not fully describe the horrors of the fire, the falling bodies, the charred remains or the quirks of fate that saved one victim and doomed another. In the central chapters of the book, his vigorous prose projects the reader right into the heart of the fire.In the first part of the book, Von Drehle examines the victims of the fire that broke out shortly before quitting time at the Triangle Shirtwaist (i.e., blouse) factory on Saturday, March 25, 1911. Who were they? Why did the come to America? Why did they take factory jobs instead of domestic jobs? Where did they live? What did they wear? What did they do in their spare time? Von Drehle brings these people and their neighborhoods to life.Nor does he ignore, or spare, the management. Immigrants and textile workers themselves, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris had risen in the world and owned a series of factories, as they called these sweatshops. Von Drehle details the tactics they used to resistance to unions and break strikes. He describes some of their cost-saving practices (including cheating workers out of earned wages) and provides convincing evidence that they had a history of torching their own workshops at the end of the season to collect the insurance on unsold merchandise. If so, Von Drehle reasons that since the Triangle Fire occurred near the end of the season, Blanck and Harris might have been warehousing unsold garments at the Triangle shop, which would have added fuel and death to the conflagration. Locked doors, bins full of flammable material, insufficient water, a flimsy fire escape and non-existant fire procedures all added to the disaster. When we learn, in the last section of the book, that Blanck and Harris were brought to trial, but then acquitted, we feel righteous indignation along with the survivors and mourners of the victims. Von Drehle's research is extensive; nothing seems to escape his attention. He describes the high-society women who gave emotional and financial support to strikers and then fell away after they realized the anti-capitalist sentiments of some of the leaders. He contrasts the social conditions of the immigrants from Eastern Europe (mainly Jewish) with those from Italy (mainly Catholic), conditions that these immigrants brought with them and that affected their responses to the union movement and to the workplace in general. And, he describes living conditions, including a concise explanation of a typical tenement.The Appendix includes a list and brief description of each of the known victims, apparently the only complete list ever assemb
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