Camrose's Reviews > Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt

Hot Time in the Old Town by Edward P. Kohn
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's review
Jul 13, 2011

it was ok
Read from July 13 to August 18, 2011

The editor was AWOL; the book is layered with repetition. The title is annoyingly misleading: it is really about (a) the heat wave and (b) the undoing of the Democratic nominee William Bryan. Kohn tries to argue that the latter resulted from the former but from the facts he presents it is clear that the heat wave was at most a contributing factor. Likewise, he tries to suggest that the heat wave contributed to the political rise of Roosevelt, who was chief police commissioner in New York City at the time. Again, the facts presented do not support the argument. The last chapter finally gets to Roosevelt's subsequent success, but in a cursory manner.

Although disappointing in its scope, and tiresome in its presentation, it is valuable in portraying clearly how depressing and dangerous it was to live in the airless tenements, particularly during a heat wave. People sought breezes by sleeping in the filthy gutter or on the roof -- sometimes rolling off the roof to their death. Piles of dead horses blocked streets; high numbers of overworked funeral staff, coroners, doctors, police officers, and death registry clerks died due to the heat as they tried -- unsuccessfully -- to keep up with the number of dead bodies to process. The city government made no concerted attempt to address the situation until much too late.

Kohn does succeed in making his main point: cities are more vulnerable than small towns to dangerous heat waves because of their built environment; cities need to plan to reduce the risks of heat waves and to apply emergency measures to alleviate the impacts. It's too bad some readers may give up reading the book before they get the point.

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