Flesh & Blood so Cheap (Knopf, 2011)

Flesh & Blood so Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy

Albert Marrin

Published to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the 1911 fire that erupted in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, this powerful chronicle examines the circumstances surrounding the disaster, which resulted in the deaths of 146 workers, mostly young Italian and Jewish women. Though America represented opportunity for immigrants escaping religious persecution, disease, and natural disaster, New York City was sharply divided between the elite and those who, Marrin modestly writes, "lived more simply." B&W photographs and illustrations reveal immigrant families' impoverished living environments, while testimonials describe the "humiliating" work rules and unsafe conditions of factories like Triangle ("Slavery holds nothing worse," expressed one worker). Despite workers' efforts to organize, it took a preventable disaster to enact real change.

—Publisher’s Weekly


At the core of this landmark look at labor history is the detailed drama of the notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers died. Most of the victims were immigrant women between the ages of 14 and 23 who were burned or suffocated behind locked doors or who perished when they tried to escape the flames by jumping from windows . . . The highly readable book design features black-and-white photos on every double-page spread as well as newspaper accounts and biographical profiles, including those of leading protesters, such as Jacob Riis and Rose Schneiderman. Marrin further expands the discussion with disturbing contemporary parallels to underground sweatshops today. Sure to spark discussion, this standout title concludes with source notes and suggested-reading lists that will lead students to further resources for research and debate.


The recounting of the actual Triangle Fire is but a tiny corner of Albert Marrin's tour de force about the origins of the late-nineteenth century new wave of immigration; the related immigrant experience; the history of Manhattan's fashion industry; the evolution of American manufacturing; the height of New York City's Tammany-era and, most importantly, how government evolved in response to the demand to protect workers and consumers from all-powerful business interests who treated humans like so many cattle. . . . For me, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants who, more than a century ago, rode that new wave of immigration to New York; . . . is the long-awaited story I've never before heard about my own spiritual homeland, about why millions like my grandparents poured into it, and what it was like for them to arrive there.

—Richie Partington, http://richiespicks.com

I have read a few books about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, but this one covers more than any other and is a riveting, compelling read to top it off. . . . This is an excellent book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

(The reviewer, Kathleen Baxter, writes the Non-Fiction Book talker column in School Library Journal)

—Amazon Review