The Burning of the World: The Great Chicago Fire and the War for a City’s Soul

Books on Tape. Sept. 2023. 13:47 hrs. ISBN 9780593786208. $95. HIST
Narrator Sean Patrick Hopkins offers a riveting performance of journalist Berg’s (English, George Mason Univ.; 38 Nooses) account of the Great Chicago Fire. Berg sets the scene by describing the dangerously dry summer of 1871, when understaffed firefighting companies struggled to keep up with numerous fires that threatened the city. On October 8, a barn in a neighborhood close to the city center caught fire; owing to miscommunication and high winds, the fire spread rapidly. With superb pacing, Hopkins describes how, as the wind shifted, people abandoned their homes and ran for their lives. By the time the fire was extinguished, more than three square miles of Chicago had been destroyed, and up to a third of the city’s residents were left without homes. The aftermath of the fire was an opportunity for change. Donations poured in from across the country and worldwide as change makers vied for power, while the immigrant community fought for worker’s rights and affordable housing, and rebuilding efforts set Chicago on a new path to the future.
VERDICT Hopkins’s skillful performance of Berg’s meticulously researched narrative of the fire and its aftermath is a must-listen for anyone interested in American history and urban development.
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