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The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism

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The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
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The astonishing true story of history's largest manmade explosion before the atomic bomb, and its world-changing aftermath, 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 shcokwave 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, brvery, and surprising afterlife of one of the most dramatic events of modern times.

The astonishing true story of history's largest manmade explosion before the atomic bomb, and its world-changing aftermath, from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author John U. BaconAfter 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 shcokwave 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, brvery, and surprising afterlife of one of the most dramatic events of modern times.
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Product Details
Sales Rank:
56,802
Pages:
432
Publication Date:
11/07/2017
ISBN13:
9780062666536
Product Dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x1.40(d)
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
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About the Author

John U. Bacon is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including Three and Out; Fourth and Long; and Endzone. He appears often on NPR and national television, and teaches at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Michigan. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and son.

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Table of Contents

Part I A Forgotten Story

Chapter 1 A Century of Gratitude 3

Chapter 2 Under Cover of Darkness 5

Part II O Canada

Chapter 3 "Why Aren't We Americans?" 21

Chapter 4 Waking Up Just in Time 31

Part III The Great War

Chapter 5 As Near to Hell 43

Chapter 6 Halifax at War 55

Chapter 7 Life and Death on the Western Front 61

Chapter 8 Halifax Harbour 69

Chapter 9 "It Can't Be Any Worse" 75

Chapter 10 "The City's Newer Part" 83

Chapter 11 Wounded Inside and Out 92

Part IV A Dangerous Dance

Chapter 12 Two Ships 105

Chapter 13 December 5, 1917 118

Chapter 14 A Game of Chicken 124

Chapter 15 "Look to Your Boats!" 140

Chapter 16 Box 83 150

Chapter 17 "Oh, Something Awful Is Going to Happen" 158

Part V 9:04:35 A.M.

Chapter 18 One-Fifteenth of a Second 167

Chapter 19 Parting the Sea 175

Chapter 20 Blown Away 181

Chapter 21 They're All Gone 193

Chapter 22 The Panic 205

Part VI Help

Chapter 23 No Time to Explain 225

Chapter 24 Ready to Go the Limit 238

Chapter 25 A Steady Stream of Victims 244

Chapter 26 Blizzard 255

Chapter 27 Lost and Found 262

Chapter 28 The Last Stop 270

Chapter 29 The Yanks Are Coming 276

Chapter 30 A Working Sabbath 281

Chapter 31 "It's Me, Barbara!" 288

Chapter 32 Small Gifts 292

Chapter 33 A Toast to Allies 303

Part VII Rebuilding

Chapter 34 The Missing and the Dead 309

Chapter 35 The Inquiry 315

Chapter 36 Christmas, 1917 319

Chapter 37 Orphans 325

Chapter 38 "Don't Stare" 331

Chapter 39 The Trials 338

Chapter 40 The Wholesome Discord of a Thousand Saws 346

Part VIII Facing the Future

Chapter 41 New Lives 355

Chapter 42 The Accidental Doctor 359

Chapter 43 The Lasting Impact 366

Chapter 44 The Reunion 372

Acknowledgments 375

Source Notes 379

Bibliography 393

Index 399

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Editorial Reviews
“When I first encountered the Halifax Explosion, I knew immediately it was a tick-tock of a story just waiting to become a book. John U. Bacon is clearly the perfect writer for the job, able to keep you awake reading hours after your spouse has turned out the lights. In this suspenseful tale of heartbreak and heroism, Bacon deftly recreates a world at war and sheds new light on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.”“Riveting. ... Gripping. ... Bacon applies something like a play-by-play strategy to his non-fiction that makes it nearly bingeable. ... A please to read.”“An eternal story worth knowing. ... Well-researched and told in an engaging style.”“John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people. This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book. Highly recommended!”“The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John U. Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.”“The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.”“Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and John Hersey’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. This is a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range.”06/15/2017
In December 1917, the French freighter Mont-Blanc left New York for war-exhausted Europe with fresh troops and an unprecedented 3,000 tons of explosives, then was struck by the relief ship Imo in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. The resulting explosion, which leveled 2.5 square miles of Halifax, killed 2,000 people, and wounded 9,000 more, was the largest explosion humankind managed before the atomic bomb. From the author of three New York Times best sellers, interestingly in the area of sports.2017-09-19
A history of the destruction of a Canadian city by an explosion as powerful as a nuclear weapon.In 1917, the thriving seaport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was leveled by a munitions explosion of unprecedented force when two ships collided in the city's harbor. One carried 2,925 tons of high explosives; 494 steel drums of combustible airplane fuel; 250 tons of TNT, and 2,366 tons of the unstable, poisonous chemical picric acid, even more powerful than TNT. The ship was bound for France via Halifax as part of a convoy, the better to avoid German U-boats, until miscalculations ended in a devastating "awkward, dangerous dance." Synthesizing locally published sources, a family archive, and World War I histories, Bacon (Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football, 2015, etc.) documents the terrifying incident in vivid detail: events leading up to the ships' arrival; a capsule history of Halifax and a reprise of the start of World War I; the nail-biting collision; and its gruesome, horrific aftermath. Fires blazed, fueled not only by the explosives, but by overturned stoves and furnaces in homes; shock waves blasted out windows, spewing glass; railroad tracks were thrown up, factories crushed, wooden houses reduced to kindling. A tsunami, created by the air waves, quickly followed. Many who survived the conflagration were caught in the undertow and drowned. The explosion, Bacon writes, "destroyed 6,000 buildings, rendering 25,000 people—almost half the population of Halifax—homeless in one-ear-splitting whoosh" and killed 1,600 instantly. Corpses, many dismembered or burned beyond recognition, were scattered everywhere. Survivors at first assumed that the city had been attacked by Germans; years later, trials revealed the culpability of the ships' captains. When word spread—by telegram—to other Canadian cities and to Nova Scotia's American neighbors, help was immediate and generous. Boston, especially well-prepared because of the war, sent doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and many millions of dollars in aid. Since 1976, Boston's annual Christmas tree has been a gift of thanks from Halifax.An absorbing history of disaster and survival.“Riveting. ... Gripping. ... Bacon applies something like a play-by-play strategy to his non-fiction that makes it nearly bingeable. ... A pleasure to read.”“An eternal story worth knowing. ... Well-researched and told in an engaging style.”“[A] prodigiously researched and gripping account. ... [A] vivid narrative that make[s] extensive use of archive material, family histories and newspaper accounts.”“Definitive. ... Bacon recreates the recklessness that caused the tragedy, the selfless rescue efforts that saved thousands, and the inspiring resilience that rebuilt the town. ... Brings to light one of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century.’”“Bacon’s discovery of a trove of Barss’s letters... injects his book with a fresh and compelling storyline.”“Bacon does an excellent job of bringing the century-old events to life. He has immersed himself in old letters and journalistic accounts, finding the human stories that allow readers to connect with stories of men, women and children whose lives were ended or altered by the terrible explosion.”“Bacon is a fine storyteller, who brings all of his skills as a historian to bear on the tragedy. ... Anyone who wants to know more about a remarkable story should not miss this book.”“Bacon has crafted a marvelous story about this huge tragedy. ... Ultimately, it is a book about the power of the human spirit and how ordinary people overcome unimaginable horror to rebuild their lives and help others. It is indeed a story for our times.”“Very compelling.”“The Halifax Explosion of 1917 has been virtually forgotten, at least until this excellent book. ... Reads like an exciting novel. ... Once you start reading, it will be hard to put down. Highly recommended.”“Many Americans are unaware of the terrible tragedy so ably described in this book. The author’s inclusion of many personal accounts greatly enlivens the narrative. ... The Great Halifax Explosion sheds new light on this sad but fascinating event.”“Engrossing and enthralling. ... Gripping and deeply relatable. ... A captivating and emotionally investing journey into a community’s great sadness and how it builds strength in times of unfathomable devastation. … A striking, poignant reminder that what is forgotten should be remembered once more.”“The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John U. Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.”“The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.”“Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and John Hersey’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. This is a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range.”“John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people. This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book. Highly recommended!”11/15/2017
Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917, was a major stopping place and reshipment point for war supplies shipped to Europe. Thousands of ships carrying war material passed safely through the harbor on their way to France and Great Britain. On December 6, 1917, two cargo ships collided in the narrow channel that connects the harbor basin to the Atlantic. One ship, the Mont-Blanc, was heavily laden with aviation fuel, picric acid (a high explosive), guncotton, and dynamite. The result was the largest explosion in history, until that time, which devastated Halifax and much of the port infrastructure. Some 2,000 Haligonians died and 9,000 were wounded. Bacon (Three and Out; Endzone) treads familiar territory, as there are several books on the subject, but his respectable narrative, drawn from well-documented stories, details the lapses in procedure and judgment that led up to the catastrophe, describing both the victims' accounts and the enormous outpouring of aid from both Canada and America. VERDICT An accessible narrative useful to all World War I collections in which the event is not otherwise covered.—Edwin Burgess, Kansas City, KS
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