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Before September 2001, the deadliest day in New York history was in 1911, when 146 people, most of them poor immigrant women, died in a fire that broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory, just off Washington Square. In his new book, Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, Washington Post reporter David Von Drehle recounts the circumstances that led up to and resulted from the inferno. Von Drehle scoured archives for newspaper reports, magazine accounts, and court transcripts related to the disaster, and his book manages to combine a broad scope and fine detail. The cast of characters is vast and intricately drawn: There’s Charles Murphy, the unsympathetic Tammany Hall boss; tightfisted factory owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who betrayed their working-class roots; D.A. Charles Whitman, a politically ambitious reformer; Clara Lemlich, an early crusader for workers’ rights; defense attorney Max Steuver, the Johnnie Cochran of his day; Alfred E. Smith, Frances Perkins, and Robert Wagner, who parlayed their roles in the subsequent investigation into high-profile political careers; and, most poignantly, immigrants Rosie Freedman and Michela Marciano, who perished in the fire. Occasionally Triangle’s descriptions can be cartoonishBlanck is described as a “well-fed moon-faced man with a Daddy Warbucks head and beefy hands.” But the caricatures are easily overshadowed by Von Drehle’s absorbing narrative and the astounding connections he draws between machine politics, union organizing, insurance procedures, Russian pogroms, and a tragedy that is today nearly forgotten. Von Drehle reads at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mike DeBonis)