Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
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Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  635 ratings  ·  147 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...more
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2013)
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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
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...more
Lisa B.
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...more
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...more
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...more
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,...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...more
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...more
Apr 21, 2013 nicole rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Warning. Warning. Warning. This book is incredibly well written. It took me awhile to finish it, but I endeavored because of its importance. While telling the story of toxic pollution in Toms River, NJ from the 50's to the 90's, Fagin dips back into history to recount the evolution of epidemiology - the study of work related or environment related illnesses. Corporations don't give a damn about the earth - for the most part - or their local neighbors who breathe in the air polluted by a company'...more
Robin Tierney
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
Ken Dowell
Chemical company befouls it's environment and jeopardizes the health of those around it. Not a unique story. But this one is uniquely well written and thorough.

There are several layers to this story. There is the prevailing corporate mentality of focusing on profitable growth irrespective of how it impacts its neighbors and its neighborhood. There is the "see no evil, hear no evil" attitude of both local and state officials. There is the heart-breaking story of the families with kids stricken by...more
Pretty good- not very different from a Civil Action.
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...more
"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
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
Barbarakingsley Singer
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...more
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

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...more
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...more
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...more
Kevin Keane
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...more
Sandi Burch
A four star review for "Toms River: A Story of Science & Salvation" by Dan Fagin!

A thrilling journey through the twists and turns of cancer epidemiology, "Toms River" is essential reading for our times. Dan Fagin handles topics of great complexity with the dexterity of a scholar, the honesty of a journalist, and the dramatic skill of a novelist.

The riveting true story of a small town ravaged by industrial pollution, "Toms River" melds hard-hitting investigative reporting, a fascinating scien...more
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
This is an excellent, well researched book about the effects of on the town of Tom's River, NJ of the pollution produced by the Ciba-Geigy chemical company and then dumped into the town's water supply. It's also probably one of the most depressing books I've ever read.

For over 100 years the Swiss company dumped its industrial wastes into rivers first in Europe and then in America. Whenever government authorities discovered how the company was poisoning water supplies, they would just move to ano...more
Fiona Hodgkin
Apr 18, 2013 Fiona Hodgkin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Fiona by: Dr. Zuger in The New York Times
Shelves: non-fiction
I bought the hardcover edition of Toms River from Amazon because of Abigail Zuger's favorable review in the Science section of The New York Times on March 18, 2013. The mark of a good author of popular science is a willingness to explain subjects that are complicated. In 'Toms River,' author Dan Fagin is beyond reproach on that score! Incidence ratios? Odds Ratios? Statistical significance? Fagin jumps right in. He's a gifted writer and researcher. I especially appreciated the detailed reference...more
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
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...more
Leland Beaumont
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...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
More about Dan Fagin...
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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.” 2 likes
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