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Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  2,244 Ratings  ·  332 Reviews
For the readers of A Civil Action, The Emperor of all Maladies and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Toms River melds hard-hitting investigative reporting, a ripping scientific detective story, deep historical research and an unforgettable cast of characters into a riveting narrative that will leave readers asking, could it happen in my town, too?

On a cool September da
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2013)
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Adam I haven't read it yet, but it's author is a good pal of mine from years back in the environmental journalism field. And yes, another NY catchup would…moreI haven't read it yet, but it's author is a good pal of mine from years back in the environmental journalism field. And yes, another NY catchup would be great later this fall, when I get out from under a very busy Sept.-Oct :-) Best, Adam(less)

Community Reviews

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Mar 29, 2013 Eileen rated it really liked it
I have lived in Toms River twice – first while in high school, from 1984-1989, and it is my current residence since 2000. When my family originally moved to New Jersey in 1984, we lived not too far from where the first break in the Ciba-Giegy pipeline occurred. The story Fagin tells is the background story of my high school and college years. Many of the players he mentioned are real people to me - Bill McVeigh was my history teacher in high school and the ex-navy seal who owned a dive shop in t ...more
Jan 24, 2013 Meredith rated it it was amazing
When I received this book I was not in the mood to read about chemical companies' complete disregard for anything but profits or pollution or cancer. However, it immediately drew me in and I read 134 pages in the first sitting. I've also been compelled to tell everyone I'm in contact with about it.

Fagin's writing and structuring is particularly effective in keeping the book lively and interesting and preventing it from becoming overwhelming. He shifts between the specific history of Toms River,
Feb 23, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Having grown up in the Toms River area, I was a child when a lot of the whisperings of "cancer cluster" were first heard. So, I was extremely curious to find out more. Fagin does an excellent job of explaining how events unfolded and his particular writing style which included other illustrative historical accountings is effective in helping the layman understand the scientific process. It's hard not to read something like this and become depressed and scared. After all, I still have family who ...more
I wrote my review, reflecting my intense response to this book. I managed to lose it. condensed version:

Dan Fagin has put together a history of the horrors and inhumanity of corporate greed and government lack of involvement. His work is backed up by pages and pages of references at the end, all of which point to the causes of the devastation of the families and the lethal pollution of the area in and around Toms River, New Jersey. His work is painfully eye-opening and should be included as an e
Mar 19, 2013 Tom rated it it was amazing

A friend who teaches philosophy has a course in business ethics. I thought this was an oxymoron until he explained that business ethics have a set of values to which corporations attempt to adhere. Those values are simply put, to maximize returns to investors. Within such a framework when decisions need to be made the choice that maximizes profits will be taken. Because corporations have the same rights as people, some have compared their behavior to psychopathic personalities…void of compassion
Apr 13, 2013 Alison rated it it was ok
I wanted to much to like this book and give it a higher review. After all, I grew up 30 miles south of Toms River, so the events took place in my area of reference. I am also very into clean air and water and get almost personally offended when I read about how callously we've treated the Earth and one another in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't.

Dan Fagin certainly tried his best to tell the story as objectively and honestly as possible, but the end
Lisa B.
Jan 27, 2013 Lisa B. rated it it was amazing
Who knew a book about toxic waste dumping could be such a fascinating read?

By the first 50 pages, I had lost count of the number of times I said “holy crap!”. It was hard for me to wrap my brain around the massive quantity of dumping that was going on. I know this was in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the EPA was in it’s infancy and OSHA was non existent, but even so, I found it appalling. The company responsible already had troubles for dumping in one other U.S city and in Europe, so why s
Barbarakingsley Singer
Feb 03, 2014 Barbarakingsley Singer rated it it was amazing
It's rare that you can find a non-fiction book that's 560 pages long and find it so compelling that you can't put it down. I previously had little interest or involvement in environmentalism, but this book put me on the road to awareness.
It tells of the chemical companies and other industries in Toms River, New Jersey, USA that purportedly polluted the river, ocean and air that the residents drank, swam in and breathed. The author follows histories of some of the residents who suffered and grew
Nov 12, 2013 Mike rated it it was amazing
Toms River is essential reading for those who care about health, the environment, and the frustration and rights of those injured by industrial hubris. As a professor of Environmental History I would consider this a book that is essential reading.

Like Love Canal and other incidents around the world - Bhopal for instance which was caused by the same industry and same business, we find the rights of the individual trampled in the rush for jobs and economic salvation.

Of course short term gains in e
Apr 22, 2013 Erica rated it liked it
This book was really good but there was so much information! It was well written and I was excited to learn the history of chemical manufacturing and cancer research, but it is nearly 500 pages and it started feeling like I was at a party trapped in a really long conversation. I'm glad I read it and am shocked by what happened in my hometown, but honestly, it was a struggle to reach the end.
Growing up in New Jersey in the late 1980s, I always knew that something had gone on in Toms River: a lot of kids had cancer; that when I visited family members in the surrounding shore towns, we would only drink bottled water; and years later in college, I made friends with individuals who had grown up in Toms River who had believed that they had suffered ill effects from events that had occurred (whether they did or not, I don't know). While I had known the gist of what had happened (chemical ...more
Jan 16, 2014 Sophie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I downed Toms River with gusto, fear, and wonder, and it left me (really truly) murmuring, “Wow, wow, wow...” But these emotions are completely different, you say? That’s what makes this book so amazing! Toms River is a powerful, terrifying, and thought-provoking story that is basically an all-inclusive unofficial textbook for environmental health. I learned so much from it, and I wish all scientists and non-scientists (as in EVERYONE) get a chance to read this book and be more aware of the gray ...more
Aug 04, 2013 Chris added it
When victims of the same rare cancer live in the same neighborhood, it’s tantalizing to think an environmental villain is at play. But it’s almost fantasy to believe one will be found, let alone convicted.

That’s one of the many lessons from the childhood cancer cluster that haunted the New Jersey town of Toms River, the subject of a new book by journalist Dan Fagin.

Despite enormous costs and efforts, health investigators have never determined the cause in any of the hundreds of residential cance
Apr 21, 2013 nicole rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Fagin lays out a clear case of the corporate and government decisions that led Toms River to develop a suspected childhood cancer cluster. While I was not a fan of the pacing, the way in which the story kept moving back in time to discuss different topics such as dying methods, diagnosis methodology, and the like, I could not help getting caught up in his research. I grew up in New Jersey during the time period in which this could-be-but-not-quite childhood cancer cluster occurred and that makes ...more
Jun 30, 2013 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was both fascinated and horrified by this well-researched account of big business putting profit before the health of humans, all living creatures and the environment.

This is a story of corporate greed and government indifference. Government on all levels — state, local and federal — were complicit. It was all business as usual with no thought about the consequences of dumping toxic chemical waste into the water or burying it in ground. Even more disturbing, the local water company knew about
I was planning to read this anyway, and then it won a Pulitzer.

I'm always dubious when a book blurb says that a particular nonfiction work is paced like a novel. But this one is. I got to the end of a chapter, and the last sentence was something like, "It seemed like a good place to put a series of wells to fulfill the town's ever-increasing need for drinking water. It was well away from the chemical plant and the polluted river. The only things nearby were a few egg farms." And I thought NO STA
Jan 28, 2013 Dianne rated it it was amazing
I wrote my review, reflecting my intense response to this book. I managed to lose it. condensed version:

Dan Fagin has put together a history of the horrors and inhumanity of corporate greed and government lack of involvement. His work is backed up by pages and pages of references at the end, all of which point to the causes of the devastation of the families and the lethal pollution of the area in and around Toms River, New Jersey. His work is painfully eye-opening and should be included as an e
Jan 19, 2014 Carrie rated it really liked it
I read this as part of the 2015 reading challenge- a pulitzer prize winning book. I grew up in the town immediately next door to Toms River and spent a great deal of time in Toms River. As such many of the references and land marks were familiar to me, making this book even scarier. I had some concerns the book might lend itself to sensationalism, but the author did an excellent job of presenting things scientifically and objectively. As someone that works in the medical field of clinical resear ...more
Jan 26, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
Dense, horrifying, and very thought-provoking. Fagin interweaves the history of dye manufacturing and its subsequent industrial waste problem, the birth of epidemiology, and the unfortunate intersection of these fields with Toms River, NJ as he charts the course of sickness and cancer among town residents. Due to the lackadaisical approach taken by both Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide with regards to their industrial waste disposal, Toms River is bombarded by toxic chemicals that endanger its resid ...more
Robin Tierney
May 04, 2014 Robin Tierney rated it really liked it
Deep insight on a range of topics: infectious and chronic disease history and research...epidemiology...industrial processes, particularly involving coal tar and its compounds…corporate decision-making re: toxic sludge, waste chemicals, wastewater pitting profits/costs against public/employee safety and (mostly exploited and spoiled pride and employment concerns (jobs vs. environment)...acute and chronic disease and birth defects/childhood cancers...problems to proving ca ...more
Cynthia Barnett
Aug 27, 2014 Cynthia Barnett rated it it was amazing
An excellent model of investigative science reporting, in the tradition of A Civil Action and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Fagin weaves a riveting tale of of chemical pollution in Toms River, New Jersey, with the story of cancer epidemiology -- from the 18th century teen chimney sweeps who suffered scrotal cancer to the apparent childhood cluster in Toms River. Incredible book, maddening in underscoring the collaborative relationships between pollutors and regulators.
Apr 01, 2013 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Pretty good- not very different from a Civil Action.
Feb 20, 2017 Cottageunderhill rated it really liked it
Wow so this book did take me awhile to finish. This is well researched-- the footnotes alone and the references encompass 50 pages in the back. I even read through many of the references that Dan Fagin pulled in writing this book. I would say at times the science was to specific and involved in the beginning-- but then I think that's how well researched the author was at getting this true story together. This was an eye-opener and I do find myself thinking about this book every day. Especially w ...more
Jun 13, 2013 Jill rated it it was amazing
The author devoted more than 7 years to researching and writing this important book, and it shows. From the outset I was very impressed with the clarity and thoroughness of the writing. The book is highly technical, and I assumed at first that the author is a scientist or doctor, but he's actually an award winning environmental journalist. In the Prologue, Fagin states that Toms River is "...a dark chronicle of dumpers at midnight and deceptions in broad daylight, of corporate avarice and govern ...more
Leland Beaumont
Jan 28, 2013 Leland Beaumont rated it it was amazing
This big book is journalism and storytelling at its best!

Pigments to produce Tyrian purple were so rare the color signified royalty. That changed in 1856 when eighteen-year-old chemistry student William Henry Perkin discovered how to produce aniline dyes from coal tar. Alexander Clavel and Johann Rudolf Geigy-Gemuseus then quickly learned the secrets of producing useful chemicals from coal tar and began manufacturing various chemicals in Basel Switzerland. Others followed and chemical manufactur
Mar 23, 2013 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation" was by turns a fascinating and horrifying story for me to read in very personal ways. I was born and lived in Freehold, New Jersey; a couple of towns over from bucolic Toms River. We bought our first house there and started our family, around the same time that families in Toms River began to report elevated instances of extremely rare cancers in their children. My son could have been Michael Gillick, the tragic and inspiring central figure of Toms ...more
Kevin Keane
Aug 06, 2013 Kevin Keane rated it it was amazing
Most people who have even a passing interest in environmental toxicology can hear the name of a place that immediately conjures image man-made environmental disasters: Three Mile Island, Bhopal India, or Horizon Deepwater. However, these unfortunate episodes all were relatively acute in time. Do you have a similar list of places for chronic, long-term environmental contamination? Read this book and you will definitely add Toms River to your chronic, man-made disaster list.

This well referenced
May 02, 2013 J.S. rated it really liked it
Shelves: vine, history-medical
The problem for manufacturing companies, and especially chemical manufacturers, is what to do with the waste products. Disposing of it safely can get expensive and eat into profits, so historically companies just dumped it in a river and it was on its way to the ocean - or at least it wasn't their problem anymore. Of course, a river can only take so much before people start to notice... and complain!

Toms River was a pretty little place near the Jersey shore when Ciba-Geigy relocated their manufa
Jul 16, 2013 Dawn rated it it was amazing
I typically don't read non-fiction as I'm an escapist. But I lived in the Toms River area from 1973 until 1993 and I saw this in an airport bookstore and felt compelled to read it.

This isn't your typical account of a true story. Fagin dives into some very interesting historical information that is relevant to the heart of this story. I learned about the filthy history of the coal tar dye industry, about early epidemiology and how some very forward thinkers first became aware of the impact of en
Apr 06, 2013 Gábor rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a story of fails lasting for multiple decades. To wear fashionable bright colored clothes, we are ready to work with cancer causing and/or just plain deadly chemicals to produce those bright colors. Eloquently hiding behind the fact that existence of cancer clusters are hard to prove and even harder to link them to a specific cause, the chemical multinational producing the dyes, who was allowed to externalize the cost of safe manufacturing and health hazards to the residents of the ...more
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A science journalism professor at New York University, Dan Fagin is a nationally prominent journalist on environmental health topics. His new book, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It has been described as “a new classic of science reporting” (The New York Times), “a gripping environmental thriller” (Kirkus Reviews, starred r ...more
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“A simple pecking order has always characterized mankind's relationship to waste: The wealthy throw out what they do not want, the poor scavenge what they can, and whatever remains is left to rot.” 3 likes
“Relatively few people in town were paying close attention to the issue; a much bigger controversy in the local papers during that long, hot summer was whether flying the United Nations flag at town hall was a gesture of international cooperation or “evidence of communist conspiracy,” as one newspaper article put it.16” 0 likes
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