The true story of 60 years in the life of a small Jersey town ravaged by industrial pollution, melding hard-hitting investigative reporting, a scientific detective story, deep historical research, and a cast of characters that leaves readers asking: "Could it happen in my town, too?"
It's high time a book did for epidemiology what Jon Krakauer’s best-selling Into Thin Air did for mountain climbing: transform a long sequence of painfully plodding steps and missteps into a narrative of such irresistible momentum that the reader not only understands what propels enthusiasts forward, but begins to strain forward as well, racing through the pages to get to the heady views at the end. And such is the power of Dan Fagin’s Toms River, surely a new classic of science reporting ... This is, after all, no fairy tale, but a sober story of probability and compromise, laid out with the care and precision that characterizes both good science and great journalism in a territory where both are often reduced to their worst ... Mr. Fagin could have braided together three or four standard narrative strands into a perfectly serviceable book...Instead, he chose to weave entire tapestries of gorgeous subplot ... By this point, the reader thoroughly understands — more thoroughly, perhaps, than many of the main actors in the drama — that cause and effect, blame and reparation are ancient concepts whose hard edges are, strangely, almost impossible to delineate with our sophisticated yet remarkably imprecise scientific tools.
As Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010) investigated the tragic impact that unethical scientific pursuits had on a family, Toms River unravels the careless environmental practices that damaged a community ... Former Newsday environmental journalist Fagin’s work may not be quite as riveting in its particulars as Skloot’s book, but it features jaw-dropping accounts of senseless waste-disposal practices set against the inspiring saga of the families who stood up to the enormous Toms River chemical plant. The fate of the town, we learn, revolves around the science that cost its residents so much.
... a horror story of unregulated capitalism ... Fagin, a distinguished science reporter, provides meticulously detailed accounts of the rise of the offending chemical industries, the evolution of the science of epidemiology and the struggle of the fiercely devoted parents who hounded politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs when their natural inclination was to do nothing.