The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan
A True Story

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Synopsis

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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
 

About Stewart O'Nan

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STEWART O'NAN is the author of twelve previous novels, including Songs for the Missing, A Prayer for the Dying, and Snow Angels. In Faithful, he and Stephen King chronicled the 2004 Boston Red Sox. He was born, raised, and lives in Pittsburgh with his family.
 
Published December 10, 2008 by Anchor. 386 pages
Genres: History, Arts & Photography, Business & Economics, Biographies & Memoirs, Travel, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Circus Fire

Kirkus Reviews

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O’Nan finds epic pathos in the heroics of common individuals and circus performers (clown Emmet Kelly and the Flying Wallendas among them), the bellowing of doomed animals, the panic of the mob, the shameless buck-passing of local officials, and the disgraceful efforts of circus staff to avoid re...

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Publishers Weekly

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At the heart of the narrative is O'Nan's harrowing, minute-by-minute account of the actual burning, during which nearly 9,000 people scrambled to escape through just seven exits.

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AV Club

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Descriptions that might seem gratuitously ugly at first—in one passage, some survivors claimed they'll never forget the sound of animals being burned alive, but none were—segue into poignant, humane accounts of a city in mourning.

Mar 29 2002 | Read Full Review of The Circus Fire: A True Story

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