Nancy's Reviews > Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Triangle by David von Drehle
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Apr 04, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: history, labor, i-saw-the-film, shelf-inflicted, award-winners
Read from May 02 to 31, 2010

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.
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01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Great review!


Nancy Thanks, Eyre! :)


message 3: by El (new) - added it

El This looks great, Nancy, I'll have to check this one out. I have a strange interest in the Triangle Waist Company fire. Did you read Dreamland? It comes up in the story which was surprisingly nice to see since so few people have heard of the incident.


Nancy I've added Dreamland to my shelf. It sounds fascinating. I grew up in New York City, but only learned of the Triangle fire from a paragraph in one of my college textbooks long after I left. Thanks for the recommendation.


message 5: by Emilie (new)

Emilie cool review, nancy. this looks interesting.


Nancy It is very interesting! A little dry in parts, particularly the sections that covered politics. My favorite parts were the stories about the working conditions, the lives of the immigrants, and the fledgling labor movement. A lot of stuff happened in those days!


message 7: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Nice review. The Triangle Fire was a seminal event in the annals of worker safety. It is unfortunate that it takes so much blood for there to be any forward movement. But it has always been thus. Sadly, in hyper-individualistic 21st Century America, people forget that it is unions and socially progressive movements that have made it possible for any of us to work outside the triangle. It is heartening that the Triangle Fire tragedy is being kept alive in our collective memory with books like this one.


Nancy Thanks, Will. It makes me sad that the poor working conditions in the Triangle factory are still a reality in many parts of the world. The company that I work for has such a strong safety culture that is so deeply ingrained that I'll never use a chair as a step stool or stand on the top rung of a ladder when I'm at home. Nevertheless, I fear with our economical situation and globalization that once again workers can become vulnerable.


message 9: by Abby (new) - added it

Abby did this book have a works cited. Like things he researched when writing the book??


Nancy Yes, there is a list of references at the end of the book.


message 11: by Ellie (new) - added it

Ellie Thanks for a terrific review. I've been wanting to read this book-the Fire is a pivotal event in the development of labor unions, workers' rights, and the rights of children. Your review made me even more eager to read this book.


Nancy I hope you like the book, Ellie. There's a PBS documentary that's interesting and informative too.


Deanna Against Censorship Saw the documentary on this on one of the cable channels. Tragic.


Nancy I liked the documentary, but the book leaves a more lasting impression.

I don't know Marco, but have seen other comments about his absence. Can you PM me to let me know what happened?


Deanna Against Censorship Nancy wrote: "I liked the documentary, but the book leaves a more lasting impression.

I don't know Marco, but have seen other comments about his absence. Can you PM me to let me know what happened?"


sent you a message


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