Burning Of The World : The Great Chicago Fire And The War For A City’s Soul by Scott W Berg

Burning Of The World : The Great Chicago Fire And The War For A City's Soul by Scott W Berg

The enthralling tale of the Great Chicago Fire and the struggle for control over the city’s reconstruction in the aftermath of the tragedy is a captivating narrative. In October of 1871, the people of Chicago were well aware of the impending disaster, a colossal and uncontrollable blaze that would ravage their beloved city. With no significant rainfall since July and the fire department ill-equipped to handle large blazes, the city was on the edge.

The catastrophic event began with the ignition of Kate Leary’s barn on October 8. Although Leary was an industrious and diligent Irish woman, she was no more responsible for the fire than anyone else in the city at that time. Yet, the fire rapidly engulfed the neighborhood, spreading its destructive flames to the farthest corners of Chicago through floating embers. In desperation, families took to the streets, clutching onto whatever belongings they could salvage. The threat of grain towers exploding and the boiling Chicago River added to the chaos.

The ensuing forty-eight hours witnessed the most extensive and devastating disaster ever endured by the United States. In the aftermath of this catastrophe, Leary became the scapegoat of the fire. However, it was from the ashes of destruction that Chicago saw not only the rise of new skyscrapers, tenements, and homes, but also the birth of a new political order.

The city’s elite seized the opportunity to rebuild Chicago on their terms, cracking down on crime and immorality, while strengthening a business-friendly atmosphere. Conversely, the working class of the city recognized this as a blatant power grab that threatened their long-standing traditions, hindered their chances of recovery, and transferred power from elected officials to private interests. Thus, before the smoke from the fire had even cleared, another battle for the city’s future commenced – a struggle between the business elites and the impoverished immigrant workers.

The Burning of the World is an enthralling account of the fire’s devastating path and a revealing exploration of its aftermath. It tells the story of one of history’s most notorious disasters and the profound transformation that followed.

The Burning of the World: The Great Chicago Fire and its Aftermath

Everyone, good evening! Thank you for joining this American Inspiration event presented by American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society. I’m Margaret Tlit, director of literary programs at American Ancestors NEHGS and producer of this series. We are delighted to have you with us tonight in the land of History, looking at the remarkable American city, Chicago, and its Great Fire of 1871.
On your screen is the schedule for our hour-long event this evening, centered on the book “The Burning of the World: The Great Chicago Fire and the War for a City’s Soul” by Scott W. Berg. Lucky for us, Scott will be doing an extended illustrated presentation. After that, he will be back on screen to answer your questions, and I will be joining him to ask a few questions of my own.
Thank you all for sending your queries as you registered. Scott addressed many of those in his presentation, and he will be answering more in the Q&A. He will also be addressing a few live questions with me. If you want to send us any live questions, please use the Q&A button at the bottom of your screen.
Tonight’s program is being produced and recorded by my colleagues in our Brew Family Learning Center. As good as tonight might be, this presentation and recording, of course, the real education comes from reading the book itself. “The Burning of the World” can be purchased from our partners at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If you’d like a signed copy for yourself or anyone else, use the code AM-IN23 to get a signed copy while ordering online.
The book has been highly regarded by reviewers in The New Yorker magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. The Chicago Review of Books heralded “The Burning of the World” as a vivid, character-driven history that illuminates the political machinations of the time, along with the spirit and culture of the city.
Now, let’s move on to our formal introduction of Scott. Scott W. Berg was born and raised in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. In addition to his latest work on the Chicago Fire, he is the author of two works of narrative history: “38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End” and “Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C.” Scott was honored with the Library of Virginia Literary Award for non-fiction. He teaches writing, literature, and publishing at George Mason University and lives in Virginia. Scott, it is really great to have you with us. I love that your formal bio starts with you being from the Twin Cities, so a Midwesterner, which means that at least originally, you were completely Chicago-centric. Does that sound about right?
That sounds exactly right. When my friends and I all had our driver’s licenses, we would regularly make the six-and-a-half-hour trek to Chicago to do any number of things. But then I got an architecture degree at the University of Minnesota before I became a full-time writer. During that period, we got to spend a couple of weeks staying at the Palmer House and doing an extensive study of Chicago’s history and architecture. That long-ago event was where all the interest started. It wasn’t until many years later that I got really serious about the study, but yes, from way back, Chicago was our Manhattan and, in my mind, still is.
That’s wonderful. And you’re now in the Mid-Atlantic, which has its charms as well. Yes, but I really thank you for being here and taking us back to that great and bustling city in the 19th century. It’s such an exciting time, and your book is a real delight. Over to you for more about that.
Thank you, Scott.

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