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The Fires: Book summary and reviews of The Fires by Joe Flood

The Fires

How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City - and Determined the Future of Cities

by Joe Flood

The Fires by Joe Flood X
The Fires by Joe Flood
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Book Summary

New York City, 1968. The RAND Corporation had presented an alluring proposal to a city on the brink of economic collapse: Using RAND's computer models, which had been successfully implemented in high-level military operations, the city could save millions of dollars by establishing more efficient public services. The RAND boys were the best and brightest, and bore all the sheen of modern American success. New York City, on the other hand, seemed old-fashioned, insular, and corrupt - and the new mayor was eager for outside help, especially something as innovative and infallible as "computer modeling." A deal was struck: RAND would begin its first major civilian effort with the FDNY.

Over the next decade - a time New York City firefighters would refer to as "The War Years" - a series of fires swept through the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Harlem, and Brooklyn, gutting whole neighborhoods, killing more than two thousand people and displacing hundreds of thousands. Conventional wisdom would blame arson, but these fires were the result of something altogether different: the intentional withdrawal of fire protection from the city's poorest neighborhoods - all based on RAND's computer modeling systems.

Despite the disastrous consequences, New York City in the 1970s set the template for how a modern city functions - both literally, as RAND sold its computer models to cities across the country, and systematically, as a new wave of technocratic decision-making took hold, which persists to this day. In The Fires, Joe Flood provides an X-ray of these inner workings, using the dramatic story of a pair of mayors, an ambitious fire commissioner, and an even more ambitious think tank to illuminate the patterns and formulas that are now inextricably woven into the very fabric of contemporary urban life. The Fires is a must read for anyone curious about how a modern city works.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Flood provides a riveting look inside one of the most challenging eras of recent NYC history." - Kirkus Reviews

Writing a Best and the Brightest for the urban crisis, Flood takes you on a harrowing ladder-level tour of city firefighting, while performing the more difficult feat of making intellectual and bureaucratic history just as fascinating and dramatic." - Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2010

"It's comforting to believe that science, technology, and intellectual rigor can solve the world's ills. In The Fires, Joe Flood pierces that progressive certainty by exhaustively researching a long-forgotten period of New York's history-when algorithms helped the city's smartest leaders let the city burn. Flood's book reads like the best fiction, but is all the more important for its depiction of a real-life metropolitan tragedy." - Farhad Manjoo, Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough

"In a novel, fascinating manner, Joe Flood uses the NYC Fire Department as the anvil on which to hammer out the events between 1965 and 1977 that led to the city's collapse and changed the way we run big cities. Although already familiar with what occurred-not only did I live through it, but I inherited it when I became Mayor-I was enthralled by Flood's spectacular and insightful account." - Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York City

"In a story that reads like an epic novel, Joe Flood illustrates for us just how our greatest city declined and completely fell apart forty years ago, at the hands of a managing elite who believed they could plan, organize, and control a city by studying computer trends and implementing lofty plans. Our leaders, from Barack Obama to Michael Bloomberg, have much to gain from reading The Fires, and the rest of us have much to lose if we do not read this enlightening and erudite book, for we are on the brink of letting this history repeat itself." - Dennis Smith, author of Report from Engine Co. 82 and Report from Ground Zero

The information about The Fires shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a journalist who has spent the last seven years - since before his graduation from Harvard - researching the facts and implications of the epidemic of fires that swept through New York City in the 1970s.

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