Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle
The Goods: When I was in high school, I remember reading a paragraph in my history textbook about the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, and thinking, this sounds important, we should study this. But no, there were wars to be covered, and if we were going to make it to Vietnam by the end of the school year, there was no time to spend dallying around with labor movements, workers' safety and Tammany Hall.
As a result of my gap-filled history education, I am a huge sucker for any U.S. history books that deal with domestic happenings between 1865 and 1914, 1918 and 1941, and 1945 and 1965.
Triangle deals with the circumstances that led to 146 people burning, suffocating, or leaping to their deaths because they were locked in the factory workroom. And why would you have hundreds of people working in your factory and only one exit, you might ask. Why, to make sure none of those working class women were smuggling stolen shirtwaists home in their handbags, of course.
Although the disaster led to a massive overhaul of workplace safety regulations (a lot of which are currently being dismantled), the factory owners were aquitted of all criminal and civil charges, and in fact, wound up with an insurance settlement that surpassed their monetary losses.
This is also a book about corrupt Gilded Age politics and the struggles of female factory workers for fair wages and humane working conditions and socialist newspapers and strikebreakers with no compunctions about beating up women in dark alleys. After reading Triangle, you will be running to your local library with a list of at least five things that you want to learn all about.
If you liked...: highly readable histories like Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson, this book is for you.