Triangle: The Fire That Changed America By David von Drehle

    “Outstanding… social history at its best.” –The New York Times Book Review

    “An amazing, long-forgotten tale. A riveting history written with flair and precision.”—Bob Woodward

    In one of the most honored books of the year, David Von Drehle transports us to a beautiful spring day in March 1911 when 146 workers—most of them young immigrant women—lost their lives. Employees had just begun preparing to leave the Triangle shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village when a fire broke out and within minutes consumed the building’s upper three stories. It was the worst workplace disaster in New York City history until 9/11.
    “Animated by vigorous, descriptive prose, Triangle carries the reader deep into a portrait of early-twentieth-century New York . . . when colorful machine politicians battled socialists, suffragists and upright progressive reformers for the soul of an increasingly immigrant city.” —Chicago Tribune
    “Von Drehle’s spellbinding and detailed reconstruction of the disaster is complemented by an equally gripping account of the factory owners’ subsequent manslaughter trial (they got off scot-free), drawing on court records he helped unearth.” —The New York Times

    “Behind the fire lay the extraordinary history of sweatshop labor and the fledgling beginnings of union organizing. The heart of Von Drehle’s book is its detailed, nuanced, mesmerizing description of the fire. The descriptions . . .leave a reader staring into space.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

    Praise for David Von Drehle's Triangle:
    New York Times Extended List Best Seller • New York Times Book Review Notable Book •Washington Post Book World Rave of the Year • New York Public Library Book of the Year • New York Society Library Book of the Year • Fresh Air Critic’s Top Book of 2003 • Hadassah Top Ten Jewish Best Seller • ALA Notable Book of the Year • Winner of the 2004 Christopher Award • Winner of the 2004 Sidney Hillman Foundation Award •Amazon Top 50 Books of the Year • San Jose Mercury News Best Book • Rocky Mountain News Best Book • Providence Journal Critic’s Choice

    Cover design by Marcia Salo and Charles Rue Woods
    Cover photograph courtesy of Culver Pictures
    Photo imaging by Michael Tedesco
    Grove Press books are distributed by Publishers Group West
    Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

    Triangle tells the story of the devastating 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York. Von Drehle (who writes for the Washington Post, my favorite newspaper), tells about the tragedy, but also puts the fire in its historical context - touching on issues ranging from the labor movement, immigration, anarchy, Tammany Hall, corrupt courts, and how FDR got his start in politics. It is well written and easy to follow. Surprisingly (at least to me, who had heard this fire referenced before, many times), his book contains the very first attempt to write down the names of the 146 people who died - or at least as well as is possible ninety years later. Evidentally, back then nobody cared to take such records.

    I couldn't help, however, but to compare the book to Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire, which tells the story of the Hartford Circus fire in the mid-1940s. The books aren't really that similar - O'Nan just tells the story of the fire, without adding all the history, and Von Drehle is really more interested in using the fire to teach us a lesson about America at the turn of the last century. Unfortunately for Von Drehle, whose book is really quite good, O'Nan's book is awesome. O'Nan tale of the fire, and the people who survived it (or didn't) is so compelling, and the book is so moving, that even though the authors were doing different things, and even though I learned a lot from Von Drehle, the underlying sentiment I was left with was that maybe I should re-read The Circus Fire.

    So, I guess what I am saying is that Triangle is pretty good, but if you are only going to read one non-fiction book about a tragic fire that claimed the lives of many Americans*, I would recommend The Circus Fire instead.

    *And, you know, maybe you aren't going to read ANY book like that. Sounds damn depressing when I put it that way, no?

    080214151X 146 people died in this fire. This 2003 book contains, in its appendix, a list of 140 victims, probably the most accurate list up to that time. Since then, a researcher has identified has identified the remaining six victims. Read about it here:

    There is also a fascinating Cornell University website about this fire.

    Trivial error spotting: In Chapter 8, Henry Morgenthau Sr. is incorrectly characterized as “a future secretary [sic] of the Treasury.” Morgenthau Sr.'s son, Henry Morgenthau Jr., became Secretary of the Treasury under Franklin Roosevelt. Morgenthau Sr. was U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and a political heavyweight, but never Secretary of the Treasury. (Hey, when you're done here, why not read my excellent review of Morgenthau Sr.'s memoirs Ambassador Morgenthau's Story?)

    It seems like many of the reviews here at Goodreads do not reflect the book's merit but the reader's personal feelings about labor unions, which figure prominently in the book. Rather than fight it, I'm going to pile right on.

    There are people in the U.S. who believe (with some justification) that today's unions are often Mafia-addled societies of layabouts, dedicated the obstruction of innovation. These people cannot bring themselves to believe that unions, sometime, somewhere, could have been necessary, even worthwhile. Well, they were. Every time you knock off work at five o'clock on a Friday evening, happy in the knowledge that you are free until Monday morning, thank a union. That's right: grubby strangers from impoverished foreign lands got beat up and killed long ago so you can enjoy your 5:30 TGIF Mojito. Ashamed? No? Well, there's not much hope for you, then.

    The proprietors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory successfully fought off unions the year before the fire, and then locked their employees into a sweatshop where many either burned or jumped to their deaths during the fire. It's not a surprise that the owners seem villainous in this book. They were villainous. Later, the owners beat a richly-deserved manslaughter rap with the help of an expensive lawyer, who manipulated uneducated non-native-English-speaking witnesses until they looked like liars. It's hard to read about it without feeling outraged at the injustice. That's why the union story will continue to reach across the ages and appeal to people who have sympathy for the suffering of others. Get used to it, O modern-day union bashers, because the need for justice is deeply embedded in human nature and it's not scheduled to go away any time soon. 080214151X Beginning with a garment worker's strike and then moving onto the day the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames, the book tells the story of immigrant labor in unsafe conditions. The fire department could not reach building floors housing the factory. The fire escapes were flawed. Locked doors impeded exit for many. Some jumped to their deaths in efforts to escape the flames. The book goes on to detail the reforms brought about by the human tragedy and the trials of the plant's owners. The narrative holds the reader's attention. An annotated list of casualties appears before the blind end notes. I hate blind end notes. Please number them so we know they exist! 080214151X A fascinating read. It’s not just the story of the fire, but also describes historical trends--NYC politics and the labor movement—that preceded and followed the fire. There is some great historical detail here and von Drehle is a wonderful writer. The fire and its immediate aftermath are heartbreaking and so is the list of the dead at the end of the book. Highly recommended.

    080214151X Unbeknownst to me International Women's Day 2013 would take place while I was reading this book. Last month I read Hellhound on His Trail during MLK day and this month this history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which ultimately ushered improved workplace conditions and workweek hours. I'm on a roll!!!

    The changes were largely brought about by women like Frances Perkins who became the first woman ever to hold a cabinet post, Secretary of Labor, under FDR and by the Women's Trade Union League. But also by lesser knowns like Clara Lemlich who tenaciously worked to organize for unionization and other unbeknighted women who endured beatings, arrest, and even imprisonment at the hands of corrupt police, political administration, and court systems. Credit is also due to wealthy women such as Anne Morgan, daughter of J. Pierpont Morgan, who lent monetary support to pay for the release of poor, wrongly arrested women.

    But even more honor must be given to the victims of the Triangle factory fire. Record keeping and identificaton of these victims had much to be desired, but through painstaking research by Von Drehle he has published a list of 140 deceased (mostly women) in this book.

    I have some issues with the content of this book. The author chose to open the book rather dryly (for me) by outlining the lead-up to the fire - especially the set-up of the political and factory business climate of early 1900s' New York. Some of the immigrant information was good, but I felt descriptions of the lives and journeys of several immigrants were interesting, but not necessary to the extent that they were included. The same goes for his approach to introducing many of the players in the book, the men of Tammany Hall, judges, etc. and to multiple tellings of the victims/surivivors and their experiences during the brief minutes they had to escape the fire. Other readers, I am sure, will disagree with me on this point. And I emphasize, that it could just be me. Perhaps it ws just a little too journalistic for me.

    Still, I recommend this book. It seemed that he covered the importance of the history in a thorough fashion. The trial of the owners, Harris and Blanck, and the maneuvering of their lawyer, Max Steuer was very will written. This could possibly be attributed to better sources. Many of the immigrants spoke only their native language well and were often poortly educated, therefore leaving little written testimony.

    All in a all this was an important refresher for me on the importance of those ladies who fought so hard and gave so much for what we take for granted today.


    David von Drehle é 9 read & download

    Posted at Shelf Inflicted

    Triangle: The Fire That Changed America is a moving and riveting account of the Triangle fire of March 25, 1911, the deadliest workplace disaster in New York City for 90 years. It destroyed the lives of 146 workers, the majority of them young immigrant women.

    The author successfully brings to life the period before, during, and after the fire. He looks at the social and economic conditions of the time, working conditions in the garment industry, and the labor movement that women were gradually becoming a part of. Female garment workers were dismissed in large numbers for strikes and union activity. With the support of Clara Lemlich, a young immigrant from Russia, and upper-class allies, the plight of the predominantly female garment workers became more widely known and was taken more seriously. Unfortunately, safe working conditions, long hours, and workers’ compensation were issues that didn’t get addressed until years after the Triangle Waist Company fire.

    Von Drehle includes details about the workers – where they came from, how they lived, how they worked, and how they died. He looks at court and public records, and provides a list of the victims who perished. He also talks about the politics of the time, the Socialist movement, the corrupt Tammany Hall, the trial of Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, owners of the factory, and the high-priced attorney who successfully acquitted them of manslaughter.

    This is a fascinating look at life in the early 1900’s, a moving tribute to those who perished, and a grim reminder that workers’ rights must be protected, or they will continue to be eroded.
    080214151X OK, do you really want the truth....... I feel I ought to like this book. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. BUT, but, but I was not all that engaged! Why?

    There were too many people to get engaged with any one of them.

    It read like a textbook, at least in parts.

    This is a book about politics and labor unions, and this topic always annoys me. Improvements are made when it pays in the ballot box.

    Every individual is thoroughly reviewed so that the reader completely understands why they make the choices they do. It is like, here comes a new person and then the book covers their complete history in the next several pages.

    And I was annoyed by how at the trial what is most important, as always, is hiring a good lawyer. The wealthy can get away with anything, even murder. Take that literally. It annoyed me when it all came down to if the owners KNEW that the doors were locked. And then it happens again, several years later! Jeez.

    But this IS what happened. Everything is covered very thoroughly. So I guess it is an excellent book, but only read it when you are in the right mood for facts and facts and more facts. And you better find politics fascinating. I get so mad I want to punch somebody.

    I liked the book, but not a lot. It is worth reading. Three stars is a rating that better represents my personal views. 080214151X 1.5 stars - I didn't like it.

    A most tedious read. I hate when authors take material that is most appropriate for a newspaper article, and then stretch it out to reach book length in size. This gives nonfiction books a bad name. I also find that most journalists turned authors tend to write overly detailed books that read like textbooks without a compelling or engaging narrative. This was no exception.

    The author also included completely irrelevant random facts (to stretch out the length I suspect). For example, spending time discussing the eruption of Vesuvius, which resulted in a lava burial of the village, Bosco Trecase. That is not exactly what I expected to read about when I picked up this title. Also grew bored with the numerous depictions of crooked politics. You mean politicians on both sides were corrupt even two centuries ago? No one is surprised by this (if they are, God bless their little hearts).

    The author tries to make the actual fire scenes melodramatic, but it is difficult to get attached to the poor victims that succumbed to the fire, when there is a quick succession of brief introduction of the victims one after another. This results in the people being just random names and not actual characters that will evoke any sort of emotion from the reader. You also feel like the author is using cheap tricks to play with your emotions, though the attempt is unsuccessful.

    A final small qualm is that at the very beginning the author sets the atmosphere with Gum-chewing boys and their giggling girlfriends waited alongside stunned or sobbing relatives of the dead. Is he trying to be ironic by prefacing a book about social change (including rights of women) with blatant sexism or is he truly just an idiot that thinks all young girls were giggly little things in the early 1900s?
    First Sentence: Manhattan's Charities Pier was known as Misery Lane because that was where the bodies were put whenever disaster struck.
    080214151X Triangle: The Fire That Changed America tells the amazing and tragic story of the fire that occurred at the Triangle Waistcoat Factory, in Greenwich Village, on March 25, 1911.

    I had never come across this event previously, so I was reading this with fresh eyes completely in the dark about this tragedy.

    In addition to the stories of the people involved, there is also an in-depth examination of the Labor movement, as well as immigration and politics of the time.

    This book is intimate and startling, as well as fiercely moving. I loved it and learned so much! Highly recommend. 080214151X Triangle is a fascinating study of the infamous Triangle Waistshirt Factory in 1911. 140 people--mostly teenagers and people in the 20s--died as unsafe conditions combined with few exits for a fire that raged so out of control that the people died in less than 10 minutes either from the fire itself or jumping out the windows in a vain attempt to save their lives.

    David von Drehle provides a detailed account of the rise of organized labor and unions as well as a compelling portrait of life on the lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the last century. He even gives detailed descriptions of the pogroms that led huge numbers of Jews to flee Russia and eastern Europe and come to the United States--usually stopping in NYC. There is also a briefer but well-executed description of the conditions in Italy that caused a mass emigration from that country. And the reasons for the mass exodus of each group is also tied to their political involvement (or lack thereof) in their new country.

    The book is gripping and heartbreaking. My interest only flagged during the detailed account of the trial of the owners of the factory. But although trials can provide drama, this one does not stand up next to the vivid portraits of the victims' lives, of the city itself at that time, and the formation of the labor movement and its struggles.

    A powerful book. 080214151X