If you want to know anything about America's greatest city, you've got to be willing to get grimy, says critic Maureen Corrigan. Two new books about New York -- a novel and a narrative history -- do more than put up with filth, they positively wallow in it.
Author Timothy Egan argues in The Big Burn that the forest fire of 1910 -- the largest in American history -- actually saved the forests, even as its flames charred the trees. It helped rally public support, Egan explains, behind Theodore Roosevelt's push to protect national lands.
During the summer of 1896, a 10-day heat wave killed nearly 1,500 people across New York City — many of them tenement-dwellers. In Hot Time in the Old Town, historian Ed Kohn describes the disaster — and how a little-known police commissioner named Theodore Roosevelt championed the efforts to help New Yorkers survive the heat.