by Michael L. Cooper
Henry Holt, 2014. 215 pgs. Nonfiction
Fighting Fire is one of those bait and switch books that will attract kids with its glossy, colorful cover and then perhaps lose them with the muddy black and white pictures inside. Some of that can't be helped because the fires being described pre-dated color photography, but the 9/11 tragedy, and the California wildfires of 2007 could have been more powerfully illustrated. Still, this is a fascinating book about the terrors of fire when cities were built from wood and relied on volunteer firefighters and horse-drawn engines to put out blazes in closely packed, extremely flammable buildings. The Chicago fire and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire are familiar conflagrations considered here, but who knew that Boston was the city most likely to burn in Colonial America because of the plentiful building materials in New England's forests. In the Great Fire of 1760, 349 buildings in Boston were destroyed, and even some sailboats in the harbor. No one died, however, which is more than can be said for the terrible tragedy of the General Slocum, a paddlewheel steamboat that caught fire while on a pleasure excursion on New York's East River. Nearly all of the General Slocum's 1300 passengers died either from the flames, or from drowning as they tried to get to shore. Cooper has an easy, accessible style of writing for young people, many of whom should enjoy this fascinating look at one aspect of American history.