Toms River

July 30, 2014 History, Narrative Non-Fiction, non-fiction, Science, Uncategorized 13

15798109Title: Toms River
Author: Judith Frank
Source: from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary: This book was engaging and easy to follow, a perfect mix of science, history, and human interest stories.

Toms River had been a dumping ground for chemical pollutants for years before anyone suspected anything might be wrong. However, watchful parents soon noticed a disturbing increase in local cancer cases. It took years of unceasing efforts by residents for an investigation of chemical dumping in Toms River to begin. Even then, it was difficult to impossible to determine the different chemicals dumped in Toms River over the past half century and even more difficult to determine whether that dumping influence cancer incidence. Although families were convinced pollutants were the problem and a settlement was reached, the exact nature of the pollutants dumped at Toms River and their relationship to cancer there may never be known.

Sophie at Paper Breathers enthusiastically recommended Toms River and I’m glad I listened to her, because now I can wholeheartedly second her recommendation. The writing of Toms River was immediately engaging, focusing on the personal side of every part of the story. The events in Toms River unfold in parallel with details about the history of the pollutants dumped there and of regulation (or lack there of) of corporate dumping throughout history. Both sides of the story were equally fascinating and complimented one another well. Both stories included a large number of characters, but the author included enough reminders about who previously introduced characters were that it was easy to keep track of everyone.

Although I obviously sympathize more with the families than the people dumping pollutants, I think the author did a good job explaining the perspectives of the people who did the dumping. He also did an incredible job simplifying the statistics involved in trying to determine if the pollutants dumped in Toms River were responsible for causing a cancer cluster there. I thought he was fair and objective when presenting the arguments for and against Toms River being a true cancer cluster. He also did a nice job wrapping up everything related to the case. Personally I loved the mix of science, history, and personal stories in this book. Such a good mix of science and history and stories! Definitely a good pick for fans of books about the history of science or narrative nonfiction, but also a book I’d recommend to fans of CSI-like shows or conspiracy theories.


13 Responses to “Toms River”

  1. Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

    Fascinating! My mom actually knows someone who lives (lived?) in this town and I had no idea it had this kind of history — my family vacations in a NJ beach town and I pass the sign for Tom’s River all the time, never knowing a thing about this. Might look into this one on audio.

    • DoingDewey

      That’s pretty crazy! I love hearing when people find personal connections to books. It’s fun to read about diverse places, but it’s also exciting when places you recognize show up in books unexpectedly.

  2. Angie @Angela's Anxious Life

    I didn’t realize when I saw the cover that this was going to be a non-fiction book. I find the comment above quite interesting. Just think of all the locations around us we drive by everyday and have no idea what has happened there. Sounds like a great read.

    • DoingDewey

      The cover does seem like it could be fiction! I thought that was interesting too. I love when places I recognize unexpectedly show up in books and it’s always fun to learn something new about familiar places.

  3. tanya

    Sounds great. I like it when a book mixes science and personal stories together as well. Thanks for the review. I wouldn’t have looked at it otherwise.

    • DoingDewey

      I’m happy to have spread the word 🙂 I think personal stories can really make the science more accessible and more interesting.

  4. Kelly

    This one sounds really intriguing. The premise reminds me of A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr…not one of my favorites (way too dense/slow) but the subject matter was interesting. It sounds like this author handles it in a way that is friendlier to readers.

    • DoingDewey

      This is actually compared to A Civil Action in the goodreads blurb, but my impression looking at the reviews was that this was much better. I thought the author did a great job making some science-y topics very accessible.

  1. Nonfiction Friday - Doing Dewey

    […] this list of five nonfiction recommendations, I enjoyed two – Toms River and Five Days At Memorial – so I’m tempted to check out the […]

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    […] was killed due to the coercive practices of corrupt defense contractors. This reminded me of Toms River as much as anything else. The corrupt business practices we learn about in both are frustrating, […]

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