Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #7: Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo

This book (obviously) tells the story of the giant wave of molasses that swept through Boston's North End in 1919, destroying everything in its path and killing 21 people. Imagine 2.3 million gallons of molasses suddenly being set free in a bustling urban area...the wave was approximately 25 feet high and completely flattened several nearby buildings as well as taking down a section of the elevated train tracks.

Stephen Puleo clearly researched his work extensively--he takes the reader through the building of the tank (substandard materials, lack of supervision), the historical context of the time (labor unions, World War I, Italian immigrants, anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti), the tank's collapse and the effect on the mid-lower class Italian neighborhood, and finishes with the trial to determine responsibility and damages, which lasted for three years.

There are many interesting facts here (the historical context areas in particular) and it's obvious that Puleo was careful about checking primary sources and tirelessly documenting where his information came from. However, I think the book loses something from the human standpoint. Although at some points he attempts to add a more human viewpoint, the author's work often seems more like a well-written textbook rather than a book designed to be read. Having read quite a few of these disaster books, they tend to work better and be more enjoyable when the author focuses on the people involved in the events, rather than on legal wrangling.

On the whole, it's a decent read, particularly if you're from the area and are interested to separate the fact from the fiction of the incident.

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