Synopses & Reviews
The acclaimed author of A Prayer for the Dying
brings all his narrative gifts to bear on this gripping account of tragedy and heroism-the great Hartford circus fire of 1944.
Halfway through a midsummer afternoon performance, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus's big top caught fire. The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline; in seconds it was burning out of control, and more than 8,000 people were trapped inside. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, O'Nan skillfully re-creates the horrific events and illuminates the psychological oddities of human behavior under stress: the mad scramble for the exits; the hero who tossed dozens of children to safety before being trampled to death.
Brilliantly constructed and exceptionally moving, The Circus Fire is history at its most compelling.
"[O'Nan's]non-fiction is as accomplished as his fiction....[The Circus Fire is] as gripping as any thriller." The Seattle Times
"The Circus Fire is terrifying, compelling, and absolutely readable because it is real. It happened in 1944, but Stewart O'Nan brings it to life again, along with its heroes and villains, and makes you feel like you are inside the big top as it starts to burn." Rick Bragg, author of Ava's Man
"A superbly written and absorbing book, admirably documented. This is a candid picture of humans at their best and their worst, and deserves a place on the shelves of any serious student of the American circus." Jim Foster, editor, The White Tops, official publication of the Circus Fan Association of America
"Taut and loving, this book strains to the heart's outer limits. The Circus Fire is journalism in the service of literature, literature in the service of history." Rick Bass
"Stewart O'Nan is amazing in his handling of the abundance of facts, rumors and legends that have built up around this fire in the years since it occurred. The author of several fine novels...this is his first work of non-fiction. He shows here a journalist's restraint, using poetic description at only choice moments. You can't ask for a more dramatic story, and Stewart O'Nan captures it all in an extraordinary book, The Circus Fire" Ann Stephenson, USA Today
"With thrilling precision, O'Nan deftly describes the events leasing up to and during the fire....Accompanying O'Nan's superb writing are archival photographs, which add a visceral impact to the story." Michelle Phillips, Time Out New York
One of America's most acclaimed novelists turns to nonfiction in this powerful recreation of the great Hartford circus fire of 1944 which took the lives of 167 people and forever changed the city. Photos & illustrations throughout.