City on Fire: The Explosion That Devastated a Texas Town and Ignited a Historic Legal Battle

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Harper Collins, Jan 1, 2004 - History - 320 pages
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A "remarkable," "incendiary" and "heart-wrenching" account of America's worst industrial disaster and the landmark legal case it spawned.

On a day that dawned with brisk breezes, a clear sky, and perfect temperatures, the small town of Texas City suddenly found itself facing the greatest industrial disaster in the most industrialized nation on the planet. And, in time, the survivors of that all-American city found themselves wondering if their own government had delivered them into this hell on earth.In 1947, Texas City was experiencing boom times, bristling with chemical and oil plants, built to fuel Europe's seemingly endless appetite for the raw materials needed to rebuild its ruined cities. When an explosion ripped through its docks, the effect was cataclysmic. Thousands of people were wounded or killed, the fire department was decimated, planes were shot out of the sky, and massive ocean-bound freighters disintegrated. The blast knocked people to their knees in Galveston, ten miles away; broke windows in Houston, forty miles away; and rattled a seismograph in Denver, Colorado. Chaos reigned, the military was scrambled, the FBI launched investigations-and ordinary citizens turned into heroes.

For months on end, the brave residents of what had once been an average American town struggled to restore their families, their homes, their lives. And they also struggled to confront another welling nightmare-the possibility that the tragedy that almost erased their city from existence might have been caused by the very government they thought would protect them. CITY ON FIRE is a painstakingly researched saga of one of the most profound but forgotten disasters in Americanhistory. The Texas City Disaster was a searing, apocalyptic event that had an enormous ripple effect for millions of people around the world.

It changed the way Americans respond to disasters and the way people viewed the American government-the Texas City Disaster opened the door for average Americans to confront their government and its leaders in the nation's courts of law. It was the first time that the United States of America was named as a defendant in a case that, after a series of dizzying twists and turns, would end up in the nation's highest court.

Ultimately, the story of Texas City is a story of courage, humanity, bravery, and a painful quest for justice. It is the story of ordinary Americans behaving in extraordinary ways-and serving as role models for dignity and grace.


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Hundreds of people were killed when a ship containing ammonium nitrate caught on fire and then exploded in Texas City, Texas in 1947. Read full review


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About the author (2004)

Bill Minutaglio is an award-winning journalist and author of First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty and City on Fire. He has written for many publications including Talk, the New York Times, Outside, and Details, among others. His work was featured, along with that of Ernest Hemingway, in Esquire's list of the greatest tales of survival ever written. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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