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Saturday night, November 28, 1942, Boston suffered its worst disaster ever. At the city's premier nightspot, the Cocoanut Grove, the largest nightclub fire in United States history took the lives of 492 people-nearly one of every two people on the premises. A flash of fire that started in an imitation palm tree rolled through the overcrowded club with breathtaking speed and in a mere eight minutes anyone left in the club was dead or doomed. The Grove was a classic firetrap, the product of greed and indifference on the part of the owners and the politicians who had knowingly allowed such conditions to exist. Against the backdrop of Boston politics, cronyism, and corruption, author John C. Esposito re-creates the drama of the fire and explores the public outcry that followed. In chronicling the horrific events of one of America's most cataclysmic tragedies, Esposito has fashioned both an incomparably gripping narrative and a vibrant portrait of the era. But it is the intense, detailed narrative of the fire-harrowing yet compulsively readable-and the trials that followed that will stay with readers well after they finish this remarkable book.
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Attorney John C. Esposito was Chief Counsel to the New York State Consumer Protection Board for five years. He is currently in private practice in New York City.From School Library Journal:
Adult/High School–In Boston, 1942, the Cocoanut Grove was an elite nightclub decorated in a fantasy of tropical glamour. It was also a firetrap, a block-long labyrinth of bars and entertainment areas cobbled together with substandard materials in disregard of building codes or common sense. On the night of the fire, it was, as always, dimly lighted and overcrowded. The management had blocked all exits except the revolving front door to squeeze more people in and to prevent anyone from leaving without paying a bill. The small fire that broke out in the basement exploded throughout the building within minutes, killing nearly 500 revelers. In a narrative reminiscent of the finest Titanic accounts, the author leads readers through the horrific events as they were experienced by individuals and, using court transcripts and recent scientific research, explains how the disaster developed. He portrays the culture of political corruption and gangland economy that allowed such a public gathering place to exist and provides a riveting chronicle of the attempts to prosecute those responsible. Esposito also reveals how doctors learned from the disaster to improve procedures for burn treatment. Finally, he reminds readers (through brief discussion of more recent club fires) that it can happen again and offers advice. Black-and-white photos augment the narrative. Few who read this book will enter a public arena in the future without looking for the exits.–Christine C. Menefee, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
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