Monday, November 21, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Flesh and Blood So Cheap

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy Albert Marrin

It's probably about time I got around to reviewing the book that I nominated for the MG/YA Nonfiction Cybils.

While this book is about the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, it's about so much more. Much of the book is about placing the fire in context. We're more than half-way through the book before the actual fire. Marrin instead details the immigration boom between the Civil War and WWI. He explores the tenements and the life that many of the Triangle workers led. There's some great stuff on photographer Jacob Riis and income inequality on Manhattan. There's a history of the sweatshop and how garment manufacture moved from home-based piecework to the factory. We also get information on the labor movement up until that point in time.

And then comes the devastation of the fire and the aftermath-- both in the local sense of judgements and sentences handed down (or not) and the larger impact on worker's rights.

There's also great information on how the mob became linked with unions and the history of the garment industry since the Triangle fire.

I most appreciated the end section on the modern sweatshop and the double-edged sword of sweatshop labor. Not even that it allows us cheap clothing, but that while, to a Western eye, these jobs seem horrible and inhumane, often in the locale of the sweatshop, its seen as a very good job with a much higher earning potential and better working conditions than anything else out there. It's a complicated issue that has more gray than we like to think, and I was happy to see it so well presented in a book for younger readers.

All in all the fire, the context, and the effects are presented and explained really well. There are several black-and-white photographs to illustrate the text and bring turn-of-the-century New York to life.

Today's Nonfiction Monday Round-up is over at Books Together.

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Tara said...

I just bought this book for my classroom library...your review makes me feel so glad that I did!

GatheringBooks said...

I've seen this book reviewed quite a number of times - all very positive - would definitely check this out and recommend to our libraries in case we still don't have a copy.