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Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  3,750 ratings  ·  511 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
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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)

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Mar 29, 2013 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 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,
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
Feb 23, 2013 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
Mar 19, 2013 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
Lisa B.
Jan 27, 2013 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
Nov 12, 2013 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
Erica Deb
Apr 22, 2013 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. ...more
Apr 13, 2013 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
Christine Boyer
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Cancer research, mathematicians, analysts, environmentalists, and human interest
Pulitzer Prize Nonfiction - 2014. I'm starting to think that the Pulitzer committee gets it "right" more often with nonfiction than its fiction picks! This was a truly incredible book.

Fagin's first line at the end of the book in acknowledgments: "Nonfiction writing is a community endeavor camouflaged as a solitary one." This is true, but I believe Mr. Fagin is being way too modest. This was 466 pages of the most detailed, thought-out, organized, compilation of so many facts, figures, and human i
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
This is length and depth. The message is important. But the means of telling this long and murky report is like a stream that has to traverse all 5 continents. And the North Pole.

Because this wasn't just a detailing for the dye works in Toms River, but a history of testing, the chemical components or derivatives, all the legacy/background for the scientific methods for epidemiology (not only for bacterial, but for all kinds of mutative or parasitic health issues in populations as well).

You are
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 26, 2015 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
Barbarakingsley Singer
Feb 03, 2014 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
Very powerful book about years of chemical waste causing water and air pollution in Toms River, NJ, and the local residents who were digiligent about demanding answers.

The author did a great job of pulling in what had been done historically in cancer research to influence what happened here.

Not always an easy read, but a shocking and sobering story,
Michael Huang
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it
The story brings you back to the 1950s and 60s when the environment is at most an afterthought to the industry and perhaps even to the common people. The dye factory would just dump tons and tons of highly toxic volatile organic compounds in the river or in steel barrels in their or someone else's backyard. In the small town of Toms River, kids born with cancer are just too many to chalk up as bad luck it seems. The book tells the tragic stories of the sick; the progress of the sciences such as ...more
Porter Broyles
The book started off a little slow. It was pretty much the same story as A Civil Action or the Rainmaker--but then it really took off.

When Dan started going into the science and challenges in proving the causes of cancer in Toms River the story became fascinating. As a person who deals with statistics and analytics, determining if an abberation is legit or a natural variation can be a major challenge---especially when multiple causes and variables are introduced.

That is where this book shined,
Apr 21, 2013 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
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First and foremost, I loved the way this book was written and the way it just delves right into the history of the town in which this story takes place. I appreciate the way Fagin gives you all of the surrounding facts you could possibly want or need throughout the book - about every aspect of this story. I wouldn't say that every book needs this or that I would want this with any book - but the writing is superb and keeps you reading.

As the book progresses, I was finding myself just getting an
Helga Cohen
This Pulitzer Prize winning book of 2014 was extremely hard hitting. It dealt with the pollution from well -known chemical companies and how their pollutants caused cancer. Leukemia and neuroblastoma especially in children which was caused by industrial waste teratogens.
Fagin discusses the history of Toms River, the plant, its employees, its citizens and the history of industrial waste disposal, environmental safeguards and the history of epidemiology, cancer and cancer research and treatments.
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
Emily Crow
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
A book about "corporate avarice and government neglect"--doesn't that sound familiar? The city of Toms River, New Jersey, suffered decades of pollution from toxic waste both from a large chemical company and an illegal dumpsite. This book chronicles the long struggle as many members of the community noticed a large number of children with cancer and tried to get the government to investigate and clean up the problem. In addition, there is a lot of fascinating background information about coal ta ...more
Aug 04, 2013 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
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: vine, health-medicine
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
Jun 30, 2013 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
Jan 28, 2013 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
Robin Tierney
May 04, 2014 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
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author has taken a complicated tangle of details and turned it into a readable, compelling story of a town's unwitting complicity in polluting its own water table. The early parts of the book are full of town history and memorable characters. The middle chapters read like a thriller, keeping us wondering if the truth will come out and the bad guys get punished. The last quarter of the book tries to explain the challenges of epidemiology studies based on smaller populations. This sad story al ...more
Cynthia Barnett
Aug 27, 2014 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.
May 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and gripping. Because I grew up half an hour away, I was interested in the story, but Fagin's writing compelled me to continue to the end. The mix of scientific and human stories gave a lot of depth to what was going on. The ending was hopeful even if it wasn't entirely satisfying. ...more
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NonFiction Pulitzers: Toms River: Group Read May/June 2020 43 25 Aug 02, 2020 07:39PM  

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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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