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, brvery, and surprising afterlife of one of the most dramatic events of modern times.
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.
“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.”GEORGE F. WILL
“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.”BETH MACY
“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.”DAVID MARANISS
“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.”DOUG STANTON
“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!”DOUGLAS BRINKLEY
“Riveting. ... Gripping. ... Bacon applies something like a play-by-play strategy to his non-fiction that makes it nearly bingeable. ... A please to read.”National Post
“An eternal story worth knowing. ... Well-researched and told in an engaging style.”San Antonio Express-News
“[A] prodigiously researched and gripping account. ... [A] vivid narrative that make[s] extensive use of archive material, family histories and newspaper accounts.”Toronto Star
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.
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.