The Hamlet Fire by Bryant Simon
A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

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As Temple University history Prof. Bryant Simon argues in his prodigiously researched and penetrating analysis, “The Hamlet Fire,” the blaze was the product of four decades of deregulation in the poultry industry, driven by Americans’ insatiable appetite for cheap consumer goods.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis


"It is testament to Simon’s reportorial instincts and research that he has found this sprawling. . . story in the detritus of that now-forgotten fire. His trail from that day through poultry economics to a core of new American values is captivating and brilliantly conceived, and will provide readers with insights into our current national politics."
—The Washington Post

For decades, the small, quiet town of Hamlet, North Carolina, thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1970s, it had become a postindustrial backwater, a magnet for businesses searching for cheap labor with little or almost no official oversight. One of these businesses was Imperial Food Products. The company paid its workers a dollar above the minimum wage to stand in pools of freezing water for hours on end, scraping gobs of fat off frozen chicken breasts before they got dipped in battered and fried into golden brown nuggets and tenders. If a worker complained about the heat or the cold or missed a shift to take care of their children or went to the bathroom too often they were fired. But they kept coming back to work because Hamlet was a place where jobs were scarce. Then, on the morning of September 3, 1991, the day after Labor Day, this factory that had never been inspected burst into flame. Twenty-five people—many of whom were black women with children, living on their own—perished that day behind the plant’s locked and bolted doors.

Eighty years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, industrial disasters were supposed to have been a thing of the past. After spending several years talking to local residents, state officials, and survivors of the fire, award-winning historian Bryant Simon has written a vivid, potent, and disturbing social autopsy of this town, this factory, and this time that shows how cheap labor, cheap government, and cheap food came together in a way that was bound for tragedy.

 

About Bryant Simon

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Bryant Simon is a professor of history at Temple University. He is the author of Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America, and Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks. His work and commentary have been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and numerous other outlets. He lives in Philadelphia.
 
Published September 5, 2017 by The New Press. 320 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Hamlet Fire
All: 2 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Good
on Jul 03 2017

A vivid, highly disturbing narrative with relevance to current discussions of economic inequality and workplace safety.

Read Full Review of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Sto... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Chris Serres on Aug 25 2017

As Temple University history Prof. Bryant Simon argues in his prodigiously researched and penetrating analysis, “The Hamlet Fire,” the blaze was the product of four decades of deregulation in the poultry industry, driven by Americans’ insatiable appetite for cheap consumer goods.

Read Full Review of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Sto... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

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