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On Monday, December 3, 1917, the French freighter SS Mont-Blanc set sail from Brooklyn carrying the largest cache of explosives ever loaded onto a ship, including 2,300 tons of picric acid, an unstable, poisonous chemical more powerful than TNT. The US had just recently entered World War I, and the ordnance was bound for the battlefields of France to help the Allies break the grueling stalemate that had protracted the fighting for nearly four demoralizing years. The explosives were so dangerous that Captain Aimé Le Medec took unprecedented safety measures, including banning the crew from smoking, lighting matches, or even touching a drop of liquor.
Sailing north, the Mont-Blanc faced deadly danger, enduring a terrifying snowstorm off the coast of Maine and evading stealthy enemy U-boats hunting the waters of the Atlantic. But it was in Nova Scotia that an extraordinary disaster awaited. As the Mont-Blanc waited to dock in Halifax, it was struck by a Norwegian relief ship, the Imo, charging out of port. A small fire on the freighter's deck caused by the impact ignited the explosives below, resulting in a horrific blast that, in 1/15 of a second, leveled 325 acres of Halifax - killing more than 1,000 people and wounding 9,000 more.
In this definitive account, Bacon combines research and eyewitness accounts to re-create the tragedy and its aftermath, including the international effort to rebuild the devastated port city. As he brings to light one of the most dramatic incidents of the 20th century, Bacon explores the long shadow this first "weapon of mass destruction" would cast on the future of nuclear warfare - crucial insights and understanding relevant to us today.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Matt on 02-05-18
The best story I never heard of
This is a really interesting, very engaging story about a major event I had never heard of. I've read a lot of Bacon's work. I'm a University of Michigan fan, and he covers the school's athletics pretty extensively. While this book has one very minor connecting thread to Michigan, Bacon's reputation lead me to give it a shot. I'm really glad I did.
He tells the story of this horrific event by telling the stories of several people directly affected by it, and involved in the recovery efforts. It's a great way to really humanize it and make the whole ordeal feel very real. It's less about the number of tons of explosives, and more about the people.
Johnny Heller does an excellent job reading this. He smoothly slips into a flawless French accent when pronouncing the many French words and names, which really makes things flow nicely. He bring proper seriousness to a serious topic, but keeps the light moments light. A great pairing or reader and author here.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
By Cort Mcmurray on 07-27-18
Lessons from Halifax
I grew up on the Canadian border, and though I’d heard of the Halifax explosion, I had no idea of the scope of its devastation. Bacon humanizes the victims and survivors, meticulously details the events leading up to the disaster, and creates a compelling narrative. Heller’s narration perfectly fits the story.
Heartbreaking, compelling, inspiring, and highly recommended.