City on Fire begins with a fabulous first few pages that evoke urban fire in all its aspects: critical, useful, nearly omnipresent, and too often brutally destructive. Few scholarly histories sustain the evocative prose with which Anna Rose Alexander begins this book—and this one cannot—but it also does not disappoint. From beginning to end this is a beautifully written and well-crafted book, an important new history of fire in Mexico City during its transition from former viceregal capital to a modern, industrial city. As the subtitle suggests, the book is really much more than a history of urban fire, for Alexander uses fire as a window on bigger issues: urban growth and social change, regulatory initiatives and hints of social engineering, the turn toward technological and scientific solutions to prevent and fight fire and to heal wounds, and the emerging business of...

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