Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Guest Review: The Great Halifax Explosion

Summary: NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The riveting, tick-tock account of the largest manmade explosion in history prior to the atomic bomb, and the equally astonishing tales of survival and heroism that emerged from the ashes, from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon

After steaming out of New York City on December 1, 1917, laden with a staggering three thousand tons of TNT and other explosives, the munitions ship Mont-Blanc fought its way up the Atlantic coast, through waters prowled by enemy U-boats. As it approached the lively port city of Halifax, Mont-Blanc's deadly cargo erupted with the force of 2.9 kilotons of TNT—the most powerful explosion ever visited on a human population, save for HIroshima and Nagasaki. Mont-Blanc was vaporized in one fifteenth of a second; a shockwave leveled the surrounding city. Next came a thirty-five-foot tsunami. Most astounding of all, however, were the incredible tales of survival and heroism that soon emerged from the rubble.

This is the unforgettable story told in John U. Bacon's The Great Halifax Explosion: a ticktock account of fateful decisions that led to doom, the human faces of the blast's 11,000 casualties, and the equally moving individual stories of those who lived and selflessly threw themselves into urgent rescue work that saved thousands.

The shocking scale of the disaster stunned the world, dominating global headlines even amid the calamity of the First World War. Hours after the blast, Boston sent trains and ships filled with doctors, medicine, and money. The explosion would revolutionize pediatric medicine; transform U.S.-Canadian relations; and provide physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who studied the Halifax explosion closely when developing the atomic bomb, with history's only real-world case study demonstrating the lethal power of a weapon of mass destruction.

Mesmerizing and inspiring, Bacon's deeply-researched narrative brings to life the tragedy, bravery, and surprising afterlife of one of the most dramatic events of modern times. -- William Morrow

Booking Pap Pap is back with another "beach read." Notice that his idea of a beach read isn't exactly what I think of when I think of a beach read! He read THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION by John Bacon which sounds to me like a pretty serious non-fiction book. Here are his thoughts:

During World War I Halifax, Nova Scotia served as a key staging area for Canadian troops and supply ships headed to the Allied Powers in Europe. On December 6, 1917 the SS Mont-Blanc, a French Steamer collided with the SS Imo, a cargo ship in the Halifax Harbor and created the largest man-made explosion prior to the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima. The Mont Blanc was carrying 2,950 tons of high explosives, 494 drums of combustible fuel, 250 tons of TNT and 2,366 tons of the unstable chemical picric acid. In the ensuing explosion, shockwaves and tsunami, 6,000 buildings were destroyed, 25,000 people (half the population) were left homeless, 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 injured, all in less than one second.

On its 100 year anniversary, Author John U. Bacon recounts the explosion in THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION, A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism. Bacon documents the incident in great detail relying on old letters and journalistic accounts. Bacon sets the stage by describing the high level of activity in the Harbor, some history of WW I and some detail about the two ships in the collision. As amazing as it sounds only a few people knew the dangerous nature of the cargo aboard the Mont-Blanc. Even more amazing was the reluctance of either captain to change his ship’s headings to avoid the collision. They played a high-stakes game of “chicken” each captain waiting for the other to blink first. Investigations found indifference by officials, poor communications, errors in judgement and bad timing as the major causes of the accident.

Rather than focus entirely on the ships and the explosion, Bacon spent a considerable amount of time on the aftermath of the explosion and the impact on the townspeople. Bacon brought life to the book through the use of human interest stories such as the bravery of Ernest Barss who served on the European front only to return to a worse situation in Halifax, the families whose lives were severely altered and the swift response of local communities and the city of Boston. The author makes a case that the Canadian/United States relationship was favorably altered by the Halifax disaster.

Prior to reading THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION I was not aware of this historical event even though its ranks among the most significant North American disasters including the 1871 Chicago fire, the 1889 Johnstown flood, the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION is a story of survival, courage and persistence. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoy reading about World War I history.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review and thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I'm not familiar with that event at all. I've gotten into nonfiction more these days so I think I might like this.