Read Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917 by Laura M. MacDonald Online


The events of the horrific Halifax explosion are well documented: on December 6, 1917, the French munitions ship Mont Blanc and the Belgian relief ship Imo collide in the Halifax harbour. Nearly 2,000 people are killed; over 9,000 more are injured. The story of one of the world’s worst non-natural disasters has been told before, but never like this.In a sweeping narrative,The events of the horrific Halifax explosion are well documented: on December 6, 1917, the French munitions ship Mont Blanc and the Belgian relief ship Imo collide in the Halifax harbour. Nearly 2,000 people are killed; over 9,000 more are injured. The story of one of the world’s worst non-natural disasters has been told before, but never like this.In a sweeping narrative, Curse of the Narrows tells a tale of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, retracing the steps of survivors through the wreckage of a city destroyed. Laura M. MacDonald weaves a panoramic chronicle of the astonishing international response to the explosion, telling of the generous donations of money and medical specialists made by the city of Boston, of how the number of horrific injuries to Halifax’s children inspired startling developments in pediatric medicine, and exploring the disaster’s chilling link to the creation of the atomic bomb.Filled with archival photos, defined by meticulous research andi nfused with a storyteller’s sensibility, Curse of the Narrows is a compelling and powerful book....

Title : Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780002007870
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 356 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917 Reviews

  • Jim
    2019-04-24 09:11

    I have some issues with the book but I have to say that MacDonald has crafted a tidy account of what has to be the biggest disaster in Canadian history. Without belaboring the obvious and summarizing the book, I will merely state that she starts at the beginning and carries on to way past the end of the disaster...and what a disaster! More than 2000 killed and 6000 wounded in the largest man-made explosion to predate the atom bomb. There is much that is gruesome in these pages, and no end of heartbreak for the doomed people of Halifax, but there is also much that is uplifting in the way that volunteers poured in unbidden to help rebuild broken lives and shattered dwellings. Our neighbours to the south had a train on the way before they could even ascertain the extent of the carnage! Volunteers, medications, clothing and building materials proffered unbidden from the generous people of the United States. Bear in mind that communications to the city were pretty much obliterated by the explosion, and the relief party couldn't even get a response to their inquiries about whether help was needed...they sent it anyway. MacDonald details the steps taken by these volunteers and gives them their due in this thoroughly researched and nicely written account.There is some sloppiness in the account, and it's hard to say who to blame it on. Surely the publisher hires someone to proofread the publication. On page 35 MacDonald identifies the BEF as the British Empire Force when for over a century now everyone else has been calling it the British Expeditionary Force. And in the first sentence of Appendix B she starts: "On November 21, 1917, nine days after Armistice was declared..." So, was that Armistice in 1918 not the real deal, or what? In another page she refers to Prime Minister Borden as Premier Borden, a definite demotion for that illustrious gent. But the one passage that had me scratching my head the most was this one that starts on page 71:"Constant Upham, the grocer who alerted the fire department to the fire, was also killed instantly. The back of his handsome grocery and supply store was ripped off its frame. Upham's body was never found. Most people assumed it washed out to sea."Now, I ask you, how do you get "killed instantly" from someone whose body was never found? Maybe he died an agonizing and lingering death being nibbled by sardines in the Bay of Fundy. Maybe he lost his memory and ended his days as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador. We just don't know! In the absence of a body or witnesses, we have a disappearance, not an instant death.There are other minor errors, probably typos, that should have been picked up, but I don't want to be niggling here. The book is equipped with photographs, kinda, if you don't mind their being small and printed on the same coarse paper as the text. I like my photos full size on glossy, if you please!In brief, a good book with lots of further reading sources in the Sources, and the Appendices make for some good reading as well.

  • Michael
    2019-05-08 12:04

    I had never heard of the Halifax disaster. After reading this book I can't imagine why. This is an event of catastrophic consequence. To imagine the power of 2,925 tons of TNT exploding.... the results of which are unimaginable to anyone that was not there. But this author does a amazing job of putting you there!!! This book was incredible. The Halifax disaster is truly a tragic yet amazing event. No matter what you like to read.... this book should be good to anyone and everyone. Plus I noticed most of the poor reviews mention their disliking of the description of the carnage created by the blast. What did you expect? A couple boo boos and a bruise, or maybe a bump on the head? Almost 3000 TONS of dynamite exploded!! I'm sure the descriptions of injuries in this book could have been much worse than it was. Here's a bit of advice... If you don't like to read about people being hurt, DON'T READ DISASTER BOOKS. Fires, hurricanes, explosions, tornados, floods, blizzards, earthquakes, etc. kill people. So these would be subjects to avoid if you dislike carnage. If you're curious to know what kind of damage almost 3000 tons of dynamite would do, this book will tell you.

  • Louise
    2019-05-10 11:16

    MacDonald describes how the tragedy occurred, and what different spectators saw around them as the Imo careened into the Mount Blanc. Today, the whole world watches tragedies like this from every angle (and aerial too) on TV. It took 90 years after the fact to have a definitive work on the Halifax explosion. In our media age, as Katrina occurred, millions of published words, photos, videos and accounts documented it.While information has been revolutionized since then, human nature thankfully hasn't. MacDonald tells of many small instances of heroic altruism, such as the MB crew, knowing time was of the essence, taking time to be sure all were accounted for; people allowing the hijacking of their personal autos for the rescue effort; a man taking a baby and falling on it to shield it from the expected explosion. In Katrina we saw many instances of people helping people, in the Twin Towers, the young helped the old down the staircases. Another thing that hasn't changed is the need to find loved ones. I think of 9/11, the many poignant good byes on cell phones and how relatives appeared immediately with posters and pleas.In 1917 Halifax, other than blaming the Germans, there seems to be little finger pointing among the populace. Liability seems to be an issue for the boat owners, not the people who lost families and homes. While the streets are patrolled, it seems that the rumors of looting are more prevalent than actual looting. Finger pointing now drags out for years in court rooms with high priced lawyers and huge settlements. Looting is a mixed bag, common in New Orleans and virtually absent from 9/11.When the sketchiest of info reached them by telegraph, medical and relief personnel throughout the region quickly boarded trains and some shoveled the train tracks to make their way to Halifax. Again, in thinking of modern times, people are still generous when these tragedies occur (9/11. the tsunamu in Asia, Katrina) but time is no longer a practical commodity for medical professionals. Today, there are careers in disaster relief. There are still volunteers working side by side with Red Cross and other paid staff to help. Most people, particularly medical personnel, cannot just drop everything and go.The Red Cross had greatly evolved since the San Francisco earthquake. In the following 11 years they had had experience in fires and other disasters. They now had guidelines for relief and rehabilitation and had savvy advice about organizational structures, handling money, etc. You can see the roots of the sophisticated organization that exists today.The distribution of relief funds has certainly improved. The Black man who made an incredibly modest request (especially considering many others) was totally rejected because he requested a reassessment of his claim which begged the issue of the 10% rule for Blacks and 20% for whites.

  • Kate
    2019-05-23 14:04

    Breathetakingly written account of the Dec. 6th, 1917 collision in Halifax Harbour of the French ship carrying high explosives and munitions that was waiting to join a convoy to cross the Atlantic. The Mont Blanc was carrying the highly volital to shock picric acid, TNT, Benzol, monochlorobenzal and munitions. She was struck by a Belgium Relief ship the Imo who was light and had limited capacity to maneuver as her props were half out of the water.The explosion ripped through the earth at 13,320 mph its shock wave crushing external organs, collapsing lungs, flattening houses and factories, as it hit the hills surrounding the harbour it slowed to 756 mph just .5 below the speed of sound. An almost invisible fireball shot out 1-4 miles from the location of the ship, the air blast left a vacuum which pulled the air back toward the harbour puverizing foundations whether made of stone or concrete. The heat generated was so intense that the sea water around the Mont Blanc evaporated within a 20' area, the in rushing sea caused a tsunami which flung ships upon the land and swept near 500 bodies out to sea. Oppenheimer even studied the explosion to try to grasp the effect of an atomic weapon.The blast are extended 16 miles and devastated everything killing 1,200, leaving 6,000 injured and 9,000 homeless and then within a day a gale force blizzard followed by a hurricane force blizzard several days later.Rumor of the explosion and fires reached adjacent communities and all the Provinces and the United States. Boston which had heavy ties to Nova Scotia had formed a year earlier the first disaster response organization and within half a day had organized a a relief train of medical personnel and equipment which would be delayed by the blizzard, as would other relief trains coming from the Provinces. Written in a fast paced way and difficult to set down which is rare for historical accounts. Laura MacDonald who grew up in Halifax did a superb job of giving life to this tragedy with her powerful writing style. This was the greatest war related civilian disaster.

  • Alexis
    2019-05-10 15:25

    Seems like a good introduction to the event (which I was totally unaware of) although it deals pretty superficially with the cause of the explosion itself. Covers some interesting details of such a catastrophe that you wouldn't have predicted. Like the problem of family pets eating human remains left in the rubble. Or that no churches except one held services for the first week because all the clergymen were too busy giving last rites or presiding over funerals.Oh oh! Also, the recollections of an eye surgeon who talked about the eyes of patients that were so filled with shrapnel that they "clinked when palpitated."

  • kingshearte
    2019-05-05 13:03

    Each December the people of Boston gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Some of them probably do not know why the people of Halifax send a tree every year or even that it is a gift from Nova Scotia. No one needs to know the story behind a tree to admire its beauty. But the people of Halifax know where it comes from and they remember the story.The above is not actually the blurb for the book; it's just a quick introductory paragraph, but I found it somehow more affecting than a blurb. It says what it needs to, in any case, as far as letting you know what this book is about. If you know about the explosion, it's clear; and if you don't, maybe it's intriguing enough to make you want to know. In any case, there it is.This book was extremely well-written. As someone who's pretty much always had at least some family out East, and who despite having only lived there for four years during school has an inexplicably strong attachment to Nova Scotia, the Halifax Explosion is something that is very familiar to me. As such, I pretty much knew, broadly at least, what happened, and yet the first part of this book held me riveted. It was written in such a way to have me going, "Oh no, don't do that!" and, "Oh, maybe they'll make it... Oh no," despite being fully aware that no, they would not make it. A book that can do that is quite an achievement.The explosion itself, despite my familiarity with it, remains mind-boggling. The whole thing was just this utterly ridiculous string of things that shouldn't have been allowed to happen, compounded by uncontrollable natural factors. It was such that, if you were to try and write this as fiction, by the time you got to the massive blizzards that hampered the relief efforts, your readers would be scoffing at how you've just gone unrealistically overboard with the adverse conditions. But there it was. One thing after another after another, that was so frustrating to read, because at so many points, someone could have done something differently to prevent what happened. People tried so hard to lay blame after it was over, but ultimately, I kind of have to agree with the British Privy Council - neither of the two ships should ever have allowed themselves to get close enough that this was even a possibility. There were plenty of other factors aside from that, and we'll never know the whole story, since the pilot and captain of the Imo were both killed, but really, there were so many errors in judgement from so many different people that to assign blame to just one or a handful seems ridiculous.And then there was the aftermath. The sight of the Mont Blanc's anchor sitting on the other side of the Northwest Arm where it landed gives you some idea, but the devastation caused by this explosion was truly beyond the scope of anything most of us can really grasp. The sheer number of dead, the fact that there was not a single building left in the city with its windows intact, entire communities flattened, and a ship the size of the Mont Blanc largely vapourized by the 9000-degree heat of the explosion are things that are really hard to even imagine. The first part of the book, dealing with the events leading up to, and the explosion itself, read like a really good thriller. I had a hard time tearing myself away, and blazed through that part extremely quickly. The second part, dealing with the aftermath, was much harder. It was no less compelling, but much of it was so truly horrifying that it became very difficult to read. The scores of unidentified bodies, the mutilated people missing body parts, the buckets of eyes that had to be removed, the people so blackened by soot and burns that they were unrecognizable, were all very gruesome, and downright nauseating at times. That part was a slog, but also a testament to humanity, with the way people responded, and refused to fall apart.The only quibbles I had with this book were very minor, and had to do with American spellings and conventions. For one thing, despite the statement, I have cleverly avoided arguments between my American publisher and my Canadian publisher, as well as with my family and fellow HRM-ers, by never referring to the harbor by its proper name except in the following sentence. It is now, and in my heart shall forever remain, Halifax Harbour,she does in fact refer to it by name at least three times (spelling it without the u, I might add, so it's clear which publisher won). She's gone all American with the spelling, in fact, which does disappoint me a little. It's a very Canadian book, about a Canadian event, and I would like to see things spelled according to Canadian standards. But such is life, and it didn't bother me as much as it apparently bothered a previous borrower of this book, who corrected "checks" to "cheques," which I found particularly amusing, because I guess all the other American spellings in the book were OK? More than the spellings, though, I was bothered by the use of Fahrenheit degrees. They mean nothing to me, and while I guess she can be forgiven for catering to the American publisher on that one, it would have been nice to also acknowledge the likelihood that many or most of the readers of this book will in fact be Canadian, and if you're going to use Fahrenheit, at least include a Celsius measurement in brackets or something. I think the distances were also stated pretty much entirely in miles, but as I have little conception of distances generally, that didn't bother me as much. Miles or kilometres; I have no real conception of how far either of them is, so it makes little difference to me. But that's another one where some acknowledgement of the Canadian audience would have been nice.In any case, this book was fascinating and informative, and absolutely well worth a read. It may in fact be one of the better books I've read so far this year.Edit: It has been pointed out to me that the only instances of use of the proper name of the Halifax Harbour were in titles and original quotations. I only borrowed the book, and therefore can't confirm this, and could have sworn that at least once instance that I noticed was right at the beginning of a chapter, in the main text, but nonetheless, I am certainly willing to acknowledge that I could be mistaken. As for the rest of the American spellings, I do understand that that is the result of going with an American publisher, and like I said, such is life. It's still disappointing, though.

  • Jan C
    2019-05-20 09:16

    Let's face it, I enjoy a good disaster book. And this was one disaster I had never heard of. I've never been to Halifax. But I guess I'm half-Canadian.This was one of the best. Well researched, possibly a bit graphic. But this was like a perfect storm of chain reactions - a disaster in the harbor, causes a tsunami, causes a blizzard. The explosion in the harbor should have been enough. MacDonald goes in to vivid detail of how the explosion impacted the surrounding area. Then, those who survived the explosion of two ships (one filled with armaments) were faced with the tsunami washing over their shores. Calls for help are going out. But then they get a blizzard. Both Canada and America are sending relief trains - only to be stalled by the blizzard. This was a very vivid book and one of the best I have read recently. I could not put this book down.

  • Gabriele Wills
    2019-05-21 08:19

    A gripping, well-written account of a tragic disaster that is too little known. How many of us Canadians grew up thinking that the First World War just happened in Europe? More Canadians died on the 'home front" in Halifax than during the 103 bombing raids on England.

  • Eadie
    2019-05-11 12:09

    Book DescriptionBefore Hiroshima, there was Halifax. In 1917 the busy Canadian port was crowded with ships leaving for war-torn Europe. On December 6, two of them, the Mont Blanc and the Imo, collided in the hard-to-navigate Narrows of the harbor. Within minutes, the Mont Blanc, ablaze, grounded against the city's docks. The explosion that followed would devastate the city and shock the world. Set against the background of World War I, Curse of the Narrows is the first major account of the world's largest pre-atomic explosion that set in motion a remarkable relief effort originating from Boston.I found this book to be a detailed account of this true historical event. In the first part of the book we learn exactly how the accident occurred and the devastation that happened in the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth. Within 12 hours of the explosion, a relief train from Boston, Massachusetts with hundreds of volunteers and supplies was bound for Halifax. We learn of the remarkable courage of the people as they searched for survivors and move the dead to a make-shift morgue. On top of everything that happened that day, a major snowstorm arrives and slows down the relief effort as the train from Boston gets caught in major drifts from the storm. The rest of the book deals with the hospitals that were set up by doctors and nurses to handle the victims hurt by the blast, the burials of the dead and the trial of the ships' captains. In the end, we find out how Halifax was rebuild and the memorial service held yearly to commemorate the disaster. Each December the people of Boston also gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Some of them probably do not know that it is a gift from Nova Scotia and the people of Halifax for all their support and help the day of the explosion and many years afterward. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in historical disasters. I found the book very well written and hard to put down.

  • Holly the Infinite Book Dragon
    2019-04-23 08:10

    Each December the people of Boston gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Some of them probably do not know why the people of Halifax send a tree every year or even that it is a gift from Nova Scotia. No one needs to know the story behind a tree to admire its beauty. But the people of Halifax know where it comes from and they remember the story.Most of us growing up in Canada around my age demographic, will remember the Canadian Heritage Minutes. They are such a beloved, nostalgic piece of history. The Halifax Explosion commercial always gave me chills: learned about the explosion in school, although it was mostly about the explosion itself & the amount of people lost. I had no idea the extent of devastation which the people in Halifax went through. In December of 1917, a cargo ship filled with explosives, collided with a steamship in the Narrows (an area where Halifax Harbour connects to Bedford Basin.) This set off a fire in the cargo, which in turn started a domino effect. And then Mother Nature decided to step in on top of that. 11 explosions; a fire; raining black oil for 10 minutes straight; a tsunami; thunderstorms; a blizzard. 2000 people died, 10,000 were injured & 6,000 were left homeless. Much of the city was levelled. The damage was an estimated $35 million dollars (what would be approximately $420 million US in 2004.) It was the largest man-made explosion, until Hiroshima.I love disaster books. They are a favorite subgenre of mine! There is something so compelling about what human condition can go through, of resiliency. I also love learning & this book taught me a lot. For me, the most fascinating was learning about Dr. W.E Ladd & Dr. George Cox. Dr. Cox performed eye surgeries for 84 hours straight at one point. His work provided insight into eye injuries & how to better the world of Optometry. Dr. Ladd suddenly became the head of North America's first pediatric surgical ward. His experiences helped him to become a pioneer in fluid & electrolyte imbalances in children. Because of this awful tragedy, Pediatrics & Optometry improved by leaps & bounds.The meticulous detail which the author goes into the science of the explosion, the information in regards to injuries & the survivor accounts made it evident an exhaustive amount of research was done. The only real issue I had was with the pictures in the book. They are terribly low quality. Surely they could have been printed on something other than the standard stock paper? The details within the pictures are incredibly muddled, unfortunately. There are harrowing moments that were documented of which will stay with me -- (view spoiler)[Charles's wife lying on the ground, their son held tightly in her arms. The love & protection a mother feels for her child, even within death. (hide spoiler)] Or the gut-wrenching account from Elizabeth. (view spoiler)["I saw my aunt, who was expecting a baby, dragging her little six-year-old boy by the hand. Her eyes were both blown out of her head and she was telling him to hurry; he was dead but she did not know." (hide spoiler)]These people had to endure so much. Many of them were never the same again. So much loss -- of life; possessions; mental well-being. With such a devastating ordeal, it was incredible to read about people coming together in the time of need. The people of Boston, New York, England, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, etc who raised funds, volunteered their services & sent relief items. It was impressive how quickly emergency services were organized! As a lesser known tragedy to those outside of Canada, this is well worth reading.

  • Alicea
    2019-05-05 13:58

    It's a little unsettling to me that prior to reading Curse of the Narrows I had never heard of the explosion that caused so much devastation in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917. When the munitions ship, Mont Blanc, collided with the Belgian Relief vessel, Imo, on that fateful day none of the inhabitants in Richmond could have predicted the loss that their town would incur. I have to admit that at the outset of this book I was struggling to comprehend what was occurring as much of the language was 'nautical' in nature which I've always found confusing. However, once Mac Donald began discussing the 'human element' I was hooked. Basically, the entire town was decimated in a matter of moments and thousands were killed, injured, orphaned, and made homeless. Oppenheimer used the statistics from the blast to calculate the effects of an atomic bomb (and used these calculations to create the bombs used in Nagasaki and Hiroshima). One of the unique factors in this event was that there was an historian on the ground that immediately began rounding up accounts and taking interviews in order to preserve the details of the day and the days and months preceding it. I highly encourage any fans of history (in particular WWI-era) to give this book a try. Additionally, the Appendix and Notes at the end of the book were absolutely phenomenal which is always one of my favorite parts in any nonfiction work and if you aren't reading these I highly encourage you to do so. :-D

  • Michael Flanagan
    2019-05-13 16:01

    Curse of the Narrows relives the horror of the 1917 Halifax maritime disaster that nearly wipe the port and its inhabitants of the map. I am ashamed I had never heard of this piece of history the devastation, loss of life and suffering caused by it is truly of biblical proportions.The events are told by the those who lived through the horror by the stitching together of numerous first hand accounts, as well as some poetic license. The author also does a good job of putting the disaster in the context of the history of the time giving the reader a good sense importance and isolation of Halifax.This is a well written piece of history that keeps the reader engaged through most of the book. I did have times though when I found myself skimming through the pages. Overall though a solid read that is worth the effort.

  • Thomas Paul
    2019-05-21 15:09

    On December 6, 1917, the most powerful human created non-nuclear explosion occurred in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. The explosion occurred when a French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, entering Halifax Harbor collided with a ship carrying relief supplies for Belgium, the Imo, which was sailing out of the harbor. The Mont Blanc was literally a floating bomb carrying TNT, gun cotton, and picric acid, all high explosives that were capable of simultaneous detonation. With the collision, benzol stored on the deck caught fire superheating the ship until the high explosives detonated. The effect of the explosion was to destroy most of the city of Halifax, kill 2,000 people, and wound thousands.The book tells the story of the events leading up to the human error that caused the collision but that is only a small part of the story. By page 70, the explosion has occurred and the city lays in ruins. What follows can be divided into two stories; the story of the survivors and the story of those who came to help the people of Halifax. The same day as the explosion saw relief efforts from across Canada and the US but especially from the city of Boston which had a relief train on the way to Halifax within 12 hours of the explosion. Ms. MacDonald tells the story of relief efforts struggling through the mountains of New Brunswick in a blizzard that suddenly appeared the night of the explosion. We learn about the efforts of the Red Cross as they use the lessons they have learned from the San Francisco earthquake to quickly provide relief to Halifax.The stories of the survivors and the horrors they endured (husbands identifying the bodies of their entire family, dozens blinded by the flying glass and wood, children made into orphans searching through the remains of their homes) makes for incredible reading, but the way it is presented is sometimes confusing as we go forward and back in time through the first few days after the explosion with different families. There are some other small problems with the book. The maps are not detailed enough to allow someone who doesn't know Halifax to follow the action. The pictures are printed on normal stock which makes them less detailed. For example, a description of a picture of the Imo tells us to note the puncture wounds in the hull but the picture is so poorly printed that they are impossible to see.Overall, the book is a excellent presentation of an event that most people know nothing about. It is well written and brings to life the survivors and the volunteers who came to help them. It is hard to read their stories and not be affected.

  • Carrie
    2019-04-27 12:13

    I had never heard of the Halifax disaster before, and even going into this book, I had no sense of the unparalleled destruction it caused. The explosion was massive, bigger than any explosion before it. The description of the damage it caused is now permanently etched into my mind. The physics of the explosion alone are mind-boggling - huge volumes of ocean water vaporizing, people being thrown a mile away from the air pressure, window shattering, buildings collapsing, etc. This book gives you pretty much everything you need to know about the disaster: the climate in Halifax leading up to the explosion, the actual cause of the explosion, the immediate effects of the explosion, the large-scale, urgent need for medical treatment, the administrative fortitude required to mobilize resources after the disaster, the significant involvement from the people of Boston (and an explanation of how Boston gets its big Boston Common Christmas tree each year) the clean-up, the restoration, and the inevitable legal backlash. The book also follows a few specific individuals and families, all of whom had very different stories and experiences. It is a great book and an excellent history lesson.A few notes on the book: First, you should not go into this if you are squeamish about medical trauma. The book follows an eye surgeon who came to Halifax to treat survivors who suffered eye injuries. Read this next sentence with caution: if you cannot read about eye removal and buckets of eyeballs, you should NOT read this book. Bear in mind that this explosion took place before the use and availability of ether was widespread. The description of the two ships that collided to cause the explosion is arguably the worst part of the book. Unless you love maritime stories, the details about whistles and signaling direction and so on are boring and hard to follow. Skim this section if necessary. I did not feel I missed much, even though some of the details reappear in the lawsuit that followed the explosion. Additionally, I cannot recommend the Kindle edition. It is littered with typos that appear to be the result of a sloppy digital format change, the footnotes aren't linked up well, and the pictures are hard to see. Also, if possible, read this book over a short period of time. As fascinating as it was, I read it over the course of a few months and found it very difficult to keep some of the names straight.

  • Blyden
    2019-05-23 12:58

    This was a fascinating book. Each chapter focuses on some aspect of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, organized in loosely chronological orders. Starts with setting the political, economic and military context of Halifax leading up to and during WWI and the principal parties involved. The events of the fateful morning, reconstructed from eyewitness accounts and testimony, are detailed early in the book. The main part of the book is an account, weaving local history with many personal narratives of local residents who experienced it, of the aftermath of the disaster: the family tragedies, the shock, the toll of death and suffering, and response to the disaster in the days and weeks following. One of the last chapters in the book covers the legal proceedings concerning those responsible for the collision that caused the explosion and whether they failed their duties, bringing the story back to the events of that fateful morning. The story concludes with an epilogue relating what became of each of the key characters in the story. The cast is so large that it can be difficult at times remembering who is who, but the stories are absolutely compelling. Events of deeply emotional loss, compassion, and horror are recounted that are almost guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes. The story is fascinating also as a case study in a historical disaster response. The Halifax explosion was the largest man-made explosion up to that point in history and remains the largest accidental man-made explosion in human history. It totally destroyed the Richmond part of Halifax and damaged virtually nearly every building in the city. It was precedent-setting in terms of lessons learned about disaster response, and a key event in the medical science of vision loss as a result of many people being blinded from losing eyes from flying glass and other shrapnel. The story of the carnage is gruesome. The human ability to survive amazing. The interplay between social forces and disaster response is fascinating. In many cases the prior social order was set aside by the necessities of the disaster, yet in other ways the social order shaped the disaster response, with the expected inequalities. A very good book to read, but more than a little depressing.

  • Jed Sorokin-Altmann
    2019-05-19 08:56

    In 1917, there was an explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia's harbor. Two ships had collided, one of which was laden with munitions intended for use in World War I, and when it blew up, it was the largest man-made explosion in history until the Trinity atomic bomb tests. The explosion devastated Halifax and its neighboring communities. Laura MacDonald's book is a gripping read of the how the explosion occurred, what the effects were, and what the aftermath was.This book may be of particular interest to Bostonians who have a fondness for the giant Christmas tree the City receives from Halifax every Christmas season. Boston was the first US community to rally aid for Halifax. Upon learning of the explosion, Boston immediately sent a relief train loaded with supplies, doctors, and nurses. Making its way to Halifax through blizzard conditions, the relief workers were instrumental in helping survivors of the catastrophe. In remembrance of this aid, each year, the City of Halifax sends Boston its Christmas tree.Other reviewers on have argued that the level of detail it goes in to may be disturbing to some readers. This is true. On the other hand, it is not MacDonald's fault that the explosion was so devastating with such grizzly results. MacDonald is relaying the truth of the horror that the survivors and rescuers experienced. Sugarcoating history wouldn't do anybody any favors.The book is not perfect. It seems somewhat longer than it needs to be, drawing out or repeating some elements at times. It is a bit dry in places. But on the whole, a fascinating look at a terrible event.

  • Nicole
    2019-05-03 15:01

    This isn't a true three-star rating, but I feel like two stars is too harsh. If anything, the amount of research deserves to be recognized!I'm a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, but this book didn't always work for me. The topic itself is fascinating, but the book was oddly paced and somewhat difficult to follow. The climax of the book, the ship collision and explosion, happens approximately 40 pages into the work, and the book itself is nearly 300 pages long. That's a lot of post-incident information to present and absorb. I wish the author had included more of the backstory and history at the beginning of the book, rather than jumping around from topic to topic during the post-incident writing. Rather than writing in a mostly chronological fashion, the author often writes about different topics and then backtracks. I feel like I read about the week after the explosion ten times, from ten different viewpoints, rather than as one integrated timeline.

  • Emma
    2019-05-19 13:07

    There have only been a handful of times in my life that i've not finished a book I've started. What could be a great account of a truly horrible, tragic event reads like a gorefest slasher flick screenplay. There is an over abundance of detail in describing the injuries people suffered in this explosion that took place in the bay of Halifax - only atomic bombs have caused greater explosions. But do I need 4 straight pages describing the awful details of what happens when people get glass in their eyes? Probably not. Overly and unnecessarily gruesome, I would've preferred more about the relief and rescue efforts and the logistics of recovery during the aftermath rather than descriptions of death and dismemberment. Borderline creepy.

  • Jennifer (the_pumpkin_reads)
    2019-05-02 15:06

    3.5 stars. I thought the book was really well written, but I don't think I particularly enjoy this Type of book. I found myself bored by some of the information, and wanting to linger on other topics. It's an important part of history that I didn't learn about in school and that's why I think this books are so essential, however, still- it didn't quite do it for me. First half was definitely better (for me) than the second.

  • Mick
    2019-04-24 09:11

    A gripping account of an event I never knew occured until I visited Halifax this past Oct. Well written but a bit drawn out.

  • Doug Cornelius
    2019-04-25 13:57

    My motivation for reading this book is that my grandfather came to the US because of these events. Halifax was a key shipping port for WWI. A ship laden with explosives crashed into another boat, caught fire, and then, BOOOM! The explosion was so big that the harbor floor was exposed. Shockwaves and a tsunami leveled everything within a half mile. Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured. Every building within 1.5 miles was either completely destroyed or badly damaged.

  • Kurry Swigert
    2019-05-12 14:25

    I had read Blizzard of Glass (about the 1907 Halifax explosion). That book provided a lot of info but was aimed at high school students. Curse of the Narrows provided much more detail and gave many side-stories of survivors and relief workers. This is a fascinating recount of a story most Americans know nothing about.As I side-note, I visited Halifax late in 2017. The Maritime Museum has many great displays on the explosion. I also visited the site where an 1,140 pound chunk of the Mont Blanc's anchor landed 2.35 miles from the site of the explosion.

  • Alida
    2019-04-30 11:55

    A comprehensive account of the December 6th, 2017, Halifax explosion which killed more than 2000 people and injured 6000 more. I must confess that I skimmed parts of it but did come away with a much clearer picture of this disaster, the largest man-made explosion until the atomic bomb. You can see a recreation here.

  • Joann Carol
    2019-05-15 10:13

    Excellent historical detail engagingly written. I had no knowledge of this incident even though my grand-uncle had responded to Halifax's call for telegraph operators and arrived a few days after the explosion. A well-written and sympathetic account of the victims and first responders in a horrific tragedy that was preventable.

  • Christy
    2019-04-22 11:56

    didnt finish too many facts, like a text, not a story

  • CJ
    2019-05-20 13:24

    I didn't really know much about the Halifax explosion at all before reading this book--all I knew was that every year, the people of Nova Scotia send the people of Boston a giant Christmas tree, which we put up on the Common to ooh and ahh over. This informative little piece of literature definitely will make me think next Christmas as I grumble about the traffic jam caused by the tree-lighting ceremony.In 1917, Halifax NS was a hub of military activity. Many American and Canadian ships leaving for the war in Europe would make Halifax their final destination before departure. There was a thriving economy and a uniquely protected harbor that seemed safe from both weather and enemy submarines. On December 6, a series of errors would lead to a collision between two ships--one a munitions ship stuffed to the brim with TNT, picric acid, and several other high explosives--and the resulting explosion would destroy Halifax and neighboring Dartmouth, killing more than a thousand people and wounding nearly twice that number.Laura MacDonald's book is obviously carefully researched, and having grown up in the area she has a special perspective on the character of the local people. She starts out by setting the scene, giving some background on the city and introducing the reader to some of the main players. She goes on to describe the events that led to the explosion and everything that came after, including a fairly extensive section on the relief efforts, particularly those taken on by the people of Massachusetts.It's interesting to read about how this disaster led to changes in how major cities prepared for situations of this nature, and also how this effected the efforts and training of the (at the time) newly formed Red Cross. Also, the resulting changes in medical science--specifically the idea that pediatric surgery was different and required a different skill set than adult surgery (Dr. Ladd, a preeminent Boston surgeon would return from Halifax and put his efforts into creating the pediatric surgical unit at Children's Hospital, which now has a chair named in his honor.)In all, Curse of the Narrows is a very detailed and very well-written book about an historical event nearly forgotten. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in turn-of-the-century history.

  • Sarah
    2019-05-20 10:58

    This book had a lot of potential, but it fell short for me. I skimmed the last 75ish pages just to get it finished. The author packed in a lot of information, but it was not necessarily the information I wanted to read about, if that makes sense. Even the title of the book, 'Curse of the Narrows'. She mentions the curse at the beginning and that was the only time we heard about it. A friend pointed out the significance the telegrapher's action... by staying behind and sending the message, Vince Coleman stopped trains from coming into Halifax but lost his life. He posthumously won awards and has streets named after him, was named a hero in the explosion, etc. She glossed over that and I would have loved to read more about it! The author also made a huge deal about Boston helping and the fact that Halifax thanks them yearly with a Christmas tree... since she kept mentioning it I was waiting to read about how they mobilized this 500 patient hospital and more about their efforts, thinking it must have been something extraordinary, but there was never a significant explanation. The ship explodes so soon, and that felt like the climax of the book. I wanted more back story on the shipping of munitions, the reasoning behind stocking this one ship with SO MUCH delicate cargo, the captain's thoughts, etc. I wanted to know what happened to the crews after, I wanted to know if they made any changes so that ships entering and exiting didn't have a chance to hit each other, more about residual effects of the tsunami on the region... I had a lot of questions. I also had a hard time keeping track of all of the different characters and who belonged to what family. It seems like the author found excerpts or statements from many different people and tried to just include them all without much organization. It probably doesn't help that I just finished reading a really great non fiction that was also about a disaster. I found myself comparing the two and really preferred the other book. Still, I had never heard of the Halifax explosion before reading this book, so I am glad to have been made aware of it. I will probably look for other books written on the subject.

  • Josh
    2019-05-02 14:20

    I wanted to love this book way more than I did. Hell I even wanted to like it. The subject matter itself is so incredible that it should be easy to put together an engaging, page-turner of a book about it. Curse of the Narrows didn’t deliver for me. Aside from a decent opening to set up a backdrop for the story, the rest of the novel felt like reading a series of facts. There was little to no emotion. The story bounced around between so many different characters, sometimes from sentence to sentence, that it was hard to stay engaged and attached to one person’s experience. I kept having to constantly go back in the book trying to find out who a person is (I hate thinking to myself “who is this person again?”) until I gave up doing so because I started to not care.I’ve heard some other reviewers upset about the detailed descriptions of the injuries – which doesn’t make sense to me. You’re reading a non-fiction, historical account about one of the worst explosions/disasters of all time – it’s necessary to know what happened to people, what the survivors dealt with, and what the responders saw that affected them the rest of their lives. Complaining about the injury descriptions in this book would be like reading “Gone With the Wind” and complaining about too much character development.The one thing you can say about this book is that the author was very well researched. Perhaps too much… If the story would have spent a little more time on 3 or 4 particular story lines and actually developed them a little before jumping to someone else, it might have been more engaging. Instead, you bounce around from person to person constantly, never really getting traction. The Wikipedia article on the disaster is more compelling than this novel.The cover is pretty cool and it looks nice on my bookshelf, so… there’s that.

  • Les Gehman
    2019-05-18 11:03

    On the morning of December 6, 1917, after exchanging a number of warning whistles, the Imo collided with the Mont Blanc in the narrows of the Halifax, Nova Scotia harbor. Unfortunately for the residents of Halifax, the Mont Blanc was fully loaded with munitions destined for the war in Europe. The Mont Blanc caught fire after the collision and when the crew determined that the fire was not controllable, they abandoned ship and rowed to the shore opposite from Halifax. Unmanned, the Mont Blanc ran into Halifax's Pier 6 twenty minutes after the collision and then detonated in the largest man-made explosion of the time. The explosion leveled much of Halifax on the western shore of the harbor, and some of Richmond on the eastern shore, killing over 2000 people, wounding over 6000 people, and leaving 9000 people homeless. That night a blizzard arrived further complicating rescue efforts, and cutting off Halifax from the rest of the world.Laura M. MacDonald has done an exemplary job of researching and chronicling the disaster, and the recovery from the explosion. She vividly brings to life both the people suffering from the disaster, and the medical and other responders working non-stop to rescue the injured, save their lives, and to provide shelter and support for the survivors. This is a fascinating book that acknowledges the tremendous spirit and resilience of both the people of Halifax and the many volunteers working with them overcome all of the obstacles that the explosion and subsequent weather threw at them. I highly recommend this great read for all.

  • Helen
    2019-04-27 14:14

    I admit it, I like disaster books. They're my guilty pleasure, I like reading about how far the human body and consciousness can be pressed before it breaks. It makes me value the comfortable spot I have here in mid Michigan, away from hurricanes and tsunamis and wars. It makes me less likely to complain about things like the polar vortex and our seemingly endless winter. So I guess you could say I'm a connoisseur of this type of nonfiction, and I have to say, Laura MacDonald's book on the Mont Blanc explosion in Halifax Harbor during the first World War hit all the right buttons for me. As someone who grew up in Halifax Nova Scotia, she has a personal investment to the story that shines through in how she writes about the people whose lives were abruptly turned upside down by this event. She makes everyone, from the doctors to the schoolchildren to the members of the Micmaq tribe nearby. There's also very little backstory, MacDonald jumps right in, which I can appreciate. A lot of historical accounts will fill 100 pages or so with the history of the location, famous people involved, etc., before getting to the event. While a lot of that is important, it makes for much better reading when included alongside, and not before or after, the actual story. It's also great to read a disaster story that I don't know very much about. You can only read so many books about the Titanic. So, if you're like me and you enjoy reading about things blowing up and horrible devastation, I highly recommend Curse of the Narrows. Good stuff.