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Reviews & Press


What Do the Critics Say? 












“The Richmond Theater Fire is totally engrossing, a real page turner. Baker ably depicts the vibrancy of social and cultural life in early Richmond, and captures the horror, chaos, and shock of this terrible conflagration. She does a marvelous job of unearthing and marshaling primary sources to recreate for us the most detailed and heartbreaking account of this disaster that I have ever read.” 


Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, author of Celebrate Richmond Theater

Engaging and informative… vivid and dramatic prose allows the reader to smell the smoke in the air and hear the ensuing cries of “Fire!” 

The Journal of Southern Religion 

Best study yet of antebellum Richmond…highly recommended.”


CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, an American Library Association magazine.

“Much more than just the dramatic exposition of a horrific disaster in which notable families suffered losses, Baker’s gracefully written book tells the story of nineteenth-century Richmond’s cultural transformation. The theater had its friends and foes—it was thought by some a welcome place for amusement, and judged by others a ‘school of vice.’ The author moves deftly though such subjects and public safety, personal reputations, fixation on death, and the tenacity of religious values. A solid contribution to early American history.”


Nancy Isenberg, NYT Bestselling author of White Trash and Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

“The theater fire has never been the subject of a book-length study. Baker’s well-informed and impressively researched book fills that gap, telling an engaging story in the process…Baker has written a smart and responsible popular history. Readers who want a good story and detailed descriptions will find both here. Her discussions of contemporary medical techniques and of the physical and psychological damage sustained by burn victims, then and now, are especially vivid and insightful, as are her accounts of the financial hardships suffered by families who lost their main breadwinners in the conflagration. Because Baker is also demonstrably aware of the broader historical context in which these stories unfolded, however, her narrative yields insights into issues ranging from the evolution of print culture to the history of urban infrastructures and building codes (or lack thereof). Exhaustively researched and thoughtfully contextualized, this book is a welcome contribution.”


Cynthia Kierner, author of Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times, in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 120, no. 3

“Meredith Henne Baker…tells the story in vivid detail. Her book explores not only the fire itself but also its aftermath, and it serves as an important chronicle of a tragedy that marked — and changed — Richmond.”


Virginia Book Notes, The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“The Richmond Theater Fire is not only a tragic story vividly told, but also a solid historical thesis…”


Karen Lyon, “The Literary Hill” for the Hill Rag


Reviews of Richmond Theater Fire

Who’s Talking about The Richmond Theater Fire 

and Meredith Henne Baker?

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