Lou Ureneck

Many authors have written important books about genocide but Boston University Professor Lou Ureneck, focusing on tragic events almost a century ago, has produced a "success story" involving the saving of thousands of lives.

The book is "The Great Fire: One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide" (Ecco/Harper-Collins, May, 2015, $28.99).

In 1922, an American minister named Asa Kent Jennings arranged for the evacuation of a quarter-million refugees from Smyrna, in what is now Turkey.

Liner notes state, "Often referred to as the Armenian genocide, the slaughter actually was aimed at all Christians in Turkey - Armenian, Greeks and Assyrians."

It was a period of Turkish nationalism, and the ascendant Turkish Army was determined to drive non-Turks into the sea.

Indeed, a massive, horrendous fire characterized the sack of Smyrna, and the photos in this book are both extraordinary and terrifying.

Many cowering families look as if they were going to be forced off the city's docks by the flames that stretched for blocks.

Ureneck, who traveled to the scene as part of his research, tells the story of a group of American rescuers - led by Jennings along with U.S. naval officers.

They saved countless Armenians and Greek Christian refugees from "the Great Fire of Smyrna in the aftermath of the American Genocide of 1922."

Ureneck is an example of a journalist altering his career course as the times change in the media business.

He was the editor of the Portland Press Herald, a position he left to become an editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now he is a professor at BU, where he directs the Business and Economics Journalism Program.

He also writes books.

His first two came with American themes: "Backcast," a fishing tome that won the National Outdoor Book Award in 2007, and "Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream and Five Acres in Maine" (2011).

In "The Great Fire," the author takes on a subject of international import and historical gravitas.

He has put together a riveting retelling of a tragic story, and he has done a superior job in re-creating this harrowing place and time.

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