Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2018-07-25 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 31 user ratings

"A few years ago I read the very interesting biography of social reformer Jacob Riis. This book makes an excellent companion book to that one. In fact the title, "Flesh and Blood So Cheap" is a quote from Riss' book How the Other Half Lives.

While the title of "Flesh and Blood So Cheap, The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy" leads one to believe the book is about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the book reaches much further than that.
This book chronicles the story of those working at the factory. Who were they and what brought them here to America? What was their life like? Their living conditions? It chronicles the development of sweatshops and factories in America and in New York in particular. It tells the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses. Owners would often set fire to their own factories to burn up merchandise that did not sell and collect money from insurance companies that were only too willing to pay.
Most importantly this book puts the story of the devastating fire into the perspective of the time. The fire was most assuredly a tragedy but what really brought that tragedy home for many New Yorkers is the strike that the workers had participated in only a few months prior to the fire. When the shirtwaist workers went on strike they gained the support of the people. Socialites, and upper class college girls championed their cause, walked the picket lines with them, payed their bail when they were arrested, and provided them with food. The newspapers too championed the strike. Their faces and stories were familiar to the people of New York.
To see these girls return to work only to die tragically a few months later was too much. The same girls they had championed and picketed with were now dead. The fire became a catalyst for change.

Flesh and Blood So Cheap provides a good look at immigration, working and living conditions and social reforms of the early to mid twentieth century.
" said.

"The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City occurred on March 25, 1911, and was the deadliest work disaster until the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001. The details about that day are stunning: 146 workers died, most young immigrant women; many leaped to their death from ten floors up rather than being burned alive; no one man or business was ever charged with wrongdoing concerning the fire--indeed, the owners collected heavily on the insurance; on the day of the funeral, nearly 400,000 watched the procession; the funeral procession lasted almost 6 hours. And, as horrific as those images and words are, the living and working condition of the American worker at that time in history is even more so.

This is more than just a story of a workplace tragedy and the factory conditions that caused it. This is a story of immigrant America and all those women whose hard work allows me the freedom I have today. This is more than a good book to read--it is an important book to read and to recommend and to remember. The author did an incredible job of tying together a tapestry of important political and historical threads in order to make the story so much more relevant. I've read several books and articles about this topic but none touched me so deeply as this one.

After reading about the social and living conditions of those immigrants, it seems so very spoiled to complain about Social Security, pension, work breaks, etc. How soon, as a nation, we forget our history. This book very clearly establishes what unions were created for--the protection of the workers and while I was not necessarily pro-union before reading this book, now I very much more understand the great need there has been for a unionized work force. Before complaining one more word about your job, read this book.

The title of the book comes from this quote by Jacob Riis, "That bread should be so dear, and flesh and blood so cheap." To think that these young women could be treated so heinously is almost beyond belief. And yet, it is our history. Thanks to the author for that reminder.
" said.

"(from the Book on CD) I was impressed with the way Marrin built up to the incident of the Triangle Waist Company Fire in 1911 - by providing background about where the garment-workers came from and why they came to the United States, as well as the rise of the ILGWU, and the many strikes preceding the fire. The inspiring story of the Jewish & Italian communities, the young women who labored for their families, and the union's struggles and occasional successes is a relevant & timely lesson.

I was completely captivated by the story, fascinated by the tangential details as well as the developing story and unique characters. I started to recommend this book to friends and relatives from age 13 to adult.

However, after the book reaches its crescendo, the author's focus on Tammany Hall, political corruption, and New York politics was not as interesting to me, and probably less interesting to young readers as well. He tried to give personal stories of individuals (like Al Smith, Boss Tweed, and Fiorello LaGuardia), but frankly, it was annoying to hear about arrogant male politicians who alternately respected and exploited the intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate women who really drove the story.

Finally, the lengthy quotes in Chapter 7 (I think) from Paul Krugman advocating a Free Trade policy are completely contradictory to the historical evidence presented in previous chapters. Furthermore, when Marrin catches us up on recent labor issues with stories from international garment workers, his description of three terrible garment-factory fires in 2009 in Bangladesh perfectly illustrates the point that what is needed is a world-wide labor union for garment-workers, NOT the Free Trade policies Krugman advocates.

Therefore, I imagine young readers would be confused by the convoluted outright advocacy of Free Trade sandwiched between two persuasive, massive examples of workers being vulnerable to the dangerous greed of factory owners. I'm not sure if Marrin is confused, or if he's purposefully confusing his readers for some political agenda. I wish I had stopped reading at the point the fire safety regulations were passed, and Frances Perkins became Secretary of Labor.
" said.

"Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Al Marrin was an easy-to-read book chocked full of information about the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Factory Fire. I have been fascinated by the Triangle Factory fire since I read Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch several years ago. I think one of the reasons I find it so fascinating, and what I believe will also make it feel relevant to young adult readers, is that most of the women who worked in the factory were between 14 and 20 years old. These girls struggled through unbelievable working and living conditions to support themselves and their families. It is inspiring to read about these ordinary young women who worked and sacrificed to try to improve working conditions, sometimes being verbally abused and even beaten by police officers while doing their shifts on the picket line. Some of them were arrested for striking and others were blacklisted from working in the garment district ever again.

Flesh and Blood So Cheap took an interesting and unique approach to the factory fire. While the books I’d read on the topic in the past focused on the individual experiences of the workers, Flesh and Blood So Cheap looked at the bigger picture. The author explored many contributing factors to the tragedy, including the reasons people emigrated to America, what their living conditions were like once they arrived, the demand for ready made garments, and the factory owners’ motivations. The chapters on the fire itself were matter-of-fact but still extremely moving. Marrin described the exact conditions within the building which contributed to the large number of
casualties. The book did not end with the tragic fire. Marrin discusses the push for reforms and unionization which was inspired by the disaster at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the years that followed. Many of the survivors went on to be leaders of unions and other labor organizations. I was surprised to learn that the female workers’ plight was also tied to the fight for women’s suffrage. All of these elements contribute to a comprehensive picture of the tragedy and it’s place in American History.

I was highly satisfied by this book and was amazed by the amount of information it conveyed in a really accessible format. The book was clearly written and well-supported with photographs and an impressive bibliography.

I would recommend pairing this book with the following historical fiction titles: Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch, Lost by Jacqueline Davies, Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Threads and Flames by Esther M. Friesner.
" said.

"Flesh & Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin is about the Triangle Fire in New York City. The story takes place in the early 20th century. It is one the most shocking events in U.S history before 9/11. At the time, there was no Medicare, no safety laws regarding fire escapes, nothing like that. Back then, if you worked in the clothing industry and you died at work, it was "ok". In the clothing factories, workers dealt with arsenic and other poisonous materials. There were a lot of dangers at work. There were a lot of immigrants working in the clothing industry, mostly Russians and Italians. There were a lot of clothing companies, one of them being the Triangle Waist Company. The founders were Max Blanck and Issac Harris. Their factory had a fireproof external structure, elevators that could get you anywhere in a few seconds, and electrical sewing machines. The workers only got paid $6 to $20 per week. There were cramped conditions. The staff was unhappy. The workplace was unhygienic. Also, during work hours, the doors were locked.

The Triangle Waist Company was housed in the top three floors of the Asch Building. It was 10 floors high. A fire struck in the building on March 25th, 1911. Historians believe that the fire was caused by a burning cigarette butt going into a bin. Then, as we know it, fire burst out on the 7th floor. There was a lot of panic. People escaped a fiery death by using the elevator, jumping out windows, or using the fire escapes. None of these escape routes were safe. Minutes later, the fire department arrived. The ladder truck could only go up 6 stories. 146 people died in this incident. After the fire, NY (New York) established fire safety laws and a team of inspectors to go to each workplace and see what the workplace conditions are. The moral is eternal vigilance truly is the price of liberty and safety.

I liked this book. People who are interested in national disasters and US history as well as immigration will most probably be interested in reading this book. Readers can gain knowledge of what it was like to work in New York City in the early 1900s. One of the things that was especially interesting was that there were no safety laws at work. Also, there was a big contrast between the rich and the poor. Some people may not like this book because it is very depressing, but it is an important event in history to remember. This book was very well written. It has black and white photos along with descriptions of the photos. These photos give us a better idea of what people's lives were like. This book is suitable for 9-20 year olds.

I give this book 5 stars.

Review by Umar B., 8, Central New Jersey Mensa
" said.

"In Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin tells the story of the history leading up to the tragic Triangle fire of March 25, 1911, as well as the legacy it left behind. The story begins with the history behind the mass emigration of Russian Jews and Italians to New York City around the turn of the century. Fleeing their homelands with hopes and dreams of a better life, millions of immigrants boarded filthy, overcrowded ships heading to America. Upon arrival these immigrants were not met with welcome and gold-paved streets, instead they lived in cramped tenements, worked long, hard hours for very little pay, and struggled to get by. Even so, this hard life in NYC was still better than what they had come from, for in America they had the opportunity to make better lives for themselves and more importantly their children.

As immigrants continued to flood into NYC as willing workers, industry boomed, especially garment manufacturing. Unfortunately, these were some of the most dangerous jobs you could do; one spark could set an entire building bursting with flames within minutes. With the great risk of fire well known, safety precautions were still not put into place. Besides being obvious fire traps, workers were treated poorly and made to work long hours under poor conditions for very little pay. The majority of garment workers were Jewish and Italian women and girls aged 14-35, usually about half were under age 20.

Marrin devotes a large part of the book describing the working conditions within the new model factories of the garment district in NYC and the worker’s fight for unionization and better working conditions, hours, and pay. Leading up to the tragic Triangle fire of which countless lives would certainly have been spared had proper safety precautions been in place. The Triangle fire led to positive reform toward better working conditions and safety precautions in the industry; however, organized crime gangsters’ hold on garment manufacturing along with foreign competition would eventually help lead to its downfall in NYC.

This book tells so much more than just the story of the Triangle fire, it tells the story of the immigrants who helped shape the way of life we take for granted today. After reading about these immigrants’ lives and hardships before and after coming to America; their perseverance, hard work, and determination are almost beyond belief. Marrin brings their story to life through primary sources including quotes, poetry, black and white photographs and illustration; he also has added in caption boxes with interesting facts and figures throughout. Flesh and Blood So Cheap offers a great deal of historical information without overwhelming the reader, the information flows from topic to topic while each new piece of information remains clearly connected to the original point. Its gritty details of NYC life and the immigrant experience are disturbing yet fascinating; this book definitely will not disappoint eager readers interested in this time period.
" said.

"I read this one in two sittings, a week or two apart. Once you pick it up, it's an aborbing read as much for as its horrors as its way of making history come alive. But it's not exactly cheerful reading for a lunch break, so it sat around my living room for a while before getting picked up again.

I'd argue that the story isn't as much about the Triangle Fire as it is about social conditions that led up to the fire and reforms attempted in the aftermath of the fire. The horrifying events of the fire really only take up about a chapter - it was a quick and deadly.

But to explain how something like this happens, Marrin takes us back through history to set up the day of the fire. He talks about why so many southern Italians and Eastern European Jews came to New York at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, why they worked the jobs they did, and how they lived. He describes changes in the manufacture of clothing, the advent of new technologies and changes in fashion that led to tenement-based sweatshops and later larger operations like the Triangle Waist Factory.

Having set the scene for why there were so many young women working long hours in these factories, he layers in issues like workplace safety - the practice of locking-in workers to deterr late-comers and prevent workers from leaving, the fact that fire-prevention devices had been invented (like overhead sprinklers) but that factory owners weren't required to use them. In fact, it was more cost-effective to let buildings burn (and the workers in them - there were always more willing to take the jobs) and collect insurance than to take pains to prevent fires. The scene is also set with an account of the garment workers' strike prior to the fire

Following the fire, Marrin takes us through changes in politics and policies in New York related to the garment industry - some of the immediate aftermath shows the changes brought about by the fire, but the further we get into the 20th century, the less the information seems relevant to the fire (particularly the discussion of organized crime). The final chapter briefly covers how our clothes are made today and the fact that Triangle-like conditions still exist in sweatshops.

These present-day accounts are a chilling footnote to the story, but here Marrin's tone becomes a bit more opinionated, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves. Throughout the book, in fact, he's prone to a rather grandiose tone that frequently took me out of the story. The facts he presents are gripping enough without the use of over-wrought language.

Audience is a tricky question for this one - I would say middle school and high school, depending on the reader's comfort level with occasionally gruesome descriptions. Because the book is so chock-full of different pieces of history, it could be useful to kids researching anything from immigration to working conditions to women's rights, or for readers interested in the context of the fire.

" said.

"In March of 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York caught fire. Due to so many highly flammable materials in the factory, the flames quickly tore through the crowded upper floor sweatshop. Doors were locked to prevent workers from leaving early, fire exits were not functional, and 146 people—mostly immigrant women— in the crowded factory died. Because of this fire, laws and preventative measures have been put in place to keep our workplaces and public venues safer. For example, doors open toward the outside, so a crowd pushing out will open the door instead of crush it shut.

The book really isn’t about the fire, though. The narrative goes back to the immigrant’s native countries, the circumstances there that pushed the immigrants out, and the situations in the United States that pulled them into the country. Factors in the U.S. led to sweatshops and unionization, which then created the climate that resulted in this tragedy. The book covers all of this, so the “Flesh and Blood so Cheap” part of the title is certainly accurate, but the rest of it is misleading. This isn’t a book about a fire and what came after—it’s a book about immigration, cheap labor, capitalism, and activism. It does a good job of showing how certain circumstances led to others which culminated in an event. For such a big, complex story, Marrin has done well streamlining it into a clear cause/effect discussion.

I think the book effectively showed the struggles of immigrant workers and I liked the focus on the women. However, there is a definite bias against the factory owners. Instead of being told that these men were evil moneygrubbers, I’d rather see the circumstances that allowed them to thrive in such a manner and make up my own mind. I would have come to the same conclusion, anyhow, and the book would be more balanced.

This book is written for a younger audience, but I didn’t find it particularly engaging, so I doubt many younger readers will pick it up as leisure reading. However, it could be useful as a supplemental text when looking at these issues in an educational setting. There are plenty of pictures to break up the text, and the chapters are organized in a logical way. For the most part, the narrative is dry, but there are random breaks in the voice that I found distracting. For example, when describing a female activist, the author describes her face and then adds, “Oh, those eyes!” I’m fine with an author adding his/her poetic take on things, but it needs to be done in a way that flows. In Marrin’s case, his attempts to editorialize and wax poetic stood out and seemed inappropriate.

In all, I think this would do well to supplement an academic discussion about any of the themes or events in the book. It could also springboard further research. However, it falls flat in the engaging category.

• No language or sexual issues
• Some pictures show the bodies of the fire victims. Nothing gory.
• Descriptions of desperate people jumping to their deaths from windows
" said.

September 2018 New Book:

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