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Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt Hardcover – July 27, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
Kohn begins his story of a week in August by describing a horrific death toll of another kind -- the result of a railway crash. To New Yorkers, by the time the 19th century was drawing to a close, it seemed as if natural disasters had been replaced by those associated with man-made phenomena of various kinds -- until the heat wave struck, and they were reminded forcibly that some things, like the weather, can't always be conquered.
But the best thing about this book isn't the chronicle of misery during the heatwave, but the way Kotman weaves that horrifying story of death (including the deaths of horses in the streets, left to rot for days...) into the political climate of the day. At first, I was tempted to ask what the connection was, other than that of timing -- the presidential nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties had recently been selected -- but Kohn quickly makes clear where he's going. He's telling the story of the way in which the heatwave indirectly contributed to the end of the political ambitions of populist demagogue William Jennings Bryan, whose campaign hit the skids in New York on the same day that the heat wave peaked, for reasons that Kotman argues have as much to do with the heatwave as with Bryan's own unwelcome opinions. (There's a lot here about the battle to add silver as a reserve currency, and bimetallism, which is interesting, if you care to forge through it.Read more ›
On the other hand, perhaps the title was some sort of editorial compromise, because the majority of the text covers a slice of 1896 presidential campaign politics. The heat wave figures in to the campaign, we are told, because of its effect on Bryan and those around him, but the political effects of the heat are not as prominent in the book as the personal tragedies of random New Yorkers that get tossed into the book every few pages or so. The repetition is numbing and boring, but it is the sense of padding that really distracts the reader. The book seems little more than story after story about the campaign, punctuated with tales of heat wave victims, none of it tied into a cohesive whole. Even at the end, the author makes assertions about TR and Bryan that are unsupported by the text.
In fact, nothing is supported in the text. There is a bibliography, but it is more like a list of suggested works for further reading. The book has no footnotes, and there is no way to verify the author's work.Read more ›
Kohn, a professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, writes about this little known natural disaster, "The average victim of the heat wave was a workingman, probably Irish, living in the most impoverished and squalid of conditions," Professor Kohn writes. "As he and his brethren died, the philanthropists of the Progressive Era called for reform on all levels: of working conditions and work hours, of housing conditions, of sanitary conditions, of government conditions that allowed corruption and of economic conditions that had made New Yorkers of August 1896 so susceptible to death and disease in the first place."
At the time, there was a citywide prohibition on sleeping in New York City's parks. Kohn says one of the easiest things the city could have done was remove the law, allowing people a place to sleep away from their overheated homes. Until the very last days of the crisis, the city government did very little to help its poorest residents survive the heat wave.
This book describes the desperate measures that New Yorkers took to stay cool, including the dangerous acts of sleeping on rooftops, window ledges and piers. It's sad at times and heroic at others. Overall, it's a very human book that tells the forgotten tales of surviving during a difficult time.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Outstanding! A well researched bit of the Empire State. Filled with interesting anecdotes.Published 1 month ago by Paul Herbert
really enjoyed reading "Hot Time in the Old Time." Although the focus of the book is the heat wave that hit New York City in the summer of 1896, the reader is actually... Read morePublished 3 months ago by R Helen
Climate Change believers should read this from the late 19Th century.Published 9 months ago by Rodney J. Williams
Have just begun to read this and find it full of interesting facts, many of which I knew not. I expect it will hold my interest all the way through.Published 9 months ago by Natacha Dannenberg
Outstanding book. This is a great story and is well written. Mr. Kohn writes the story of the heat wave that hit N.Y. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Mary B. Wheeler
I enjoy reading true stories whether they are autobiography or true crime and historical fiction too. This was a mix . Read morePublished 18 months ago by Amazon Customer
I liked this book even though it got a slow start. McKinley and Bryan fought for the presidency. McKinley was known for his landmark tariff legislation, while Bryan was... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Kevin M Quigg
Hot read for every history buff. Also a great reminder and validation for social nets that help those who NEED it!Published on August 12, 2013 by Paula B.