"The Circus Fire" by Stewart O'Nan


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.

"The Greatest Show: Stories" by Michael Downs


Inspired by the true story of the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire, the interconnected stories in The Greatest Show explore the aftermath of disaster in a world of clowns, elephants, and childhood fantasies.


A portrait of an American city and its people over five decades, these stories raise questions about wounds and healing, memory and forgetting, and about the human capacity for kindness—with all its futility and power—in the midst of great loss.