The Circus Fire

The Circus Fire Cover

The Circus Fire

By Stewart O'Nan

Anchor Books, Paperback, 9780385496858, 384pp.

Publication Date: June 12, 2001


The acclaimed author of A Prayer for the Dying brings all his narrative gifts to bear on this gripping account of tragedy and heroism-the great Hartford circus fire of 1944.

Halfway through a midsummer afternoon performance, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus's big top caught fire. The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline; in seconds it was burning out of control, and more than 8,000 people were trapped inside. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, O'Nan skillfully re-creates the horrific events and illuminates the psychological oddities of human behavior under stress: the mad scramble for the exits; the hero who tossed dozens of children to safety before being trampled to death.

Brilliantly constructed and exceptionally moving, The Circus Fire is history at its most compelling.

Praise For The Circus Fire

“A triumph of literary storytelling.”–The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“An extraordinary book. O’Nan is amazing in his handling of the abundance of fact, rumors and legends that have built up around this fire.”–USA Today

“[O’Nan’s]non-fiction is as accomplished as his fiction.... [The Circus Fire is] as gripping as any thriller.”–The Seattle Times