Firestorm at Peshtigo by Denise Gess and William Lutz

Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American HistoryFirestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History by Denise Gess
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This serious, scholarly, non-fiction book recounts the story of the deadliest forest fire in recorded human history. The first two-thirds of the books describes the significant community members and their lifestyle in the late 1800s. The Wisconsin town thrived on lumbering and a huge woodenware factory which provided jobs and brought income to the area. At the same time, immigrants from northern Europe were arriving in droves and clearing land by burning. This set of factors, combined with a long drought, created the perfect conditions for the fire. This early part of the book holds some historical interest, but the meat of the book lies in the detail of the fire and its aftermath. The authors chronicle the destruction and death in brutally vivid prose, rather more than is necessary. After reading a few accounts of people exploding while running from the flames, of children smothered under their dead mothers’ bodies, and so forth, I skipped to the aftermath portion. Although it was historical in size and scope, the story is little different from what we hear on the news every year here in Northern California. While there is nothing really wrong with the writing or scholarship, unless you are a student of fires, this book is not particularly entertaining or engaging.

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