Curse of the Narrows

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Overview

Before 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 ...

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Curse of the Narrows

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Overview

Before 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Neil Genzlinger
Laura M. Mac Donald, who grew up across Halifax Harbor in Dartmouth, gives a detailed, often wrenching account of this calamity in Curse of the Narrows, a book full of ordinary people overwhelmed by a disaster.
— The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
In this recounting of the December 6, 1917, explosion that leveled much of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mac Donald gives a minutely detailed if not particularly lively rendition of what legend holds to be the most powerful manmade detonation before the testing of the atomic bomb in 1945. The unique natural characteristics of the city's harbor had long made it an ideal naval base of operations, and by 1917, Halifax had become a key transit point for war material bound from the ostensibly neutral United States to the beleaguered European allies. The merchant ship Mont Blanc, loaded with thousands of tons of TNT and the notoriously unstable explosive picric acid, was passing through the harbor's Narrows when it was struck by a Belgian relief vessel and exploded. More than 1,600 died, thousands more were injured and the blast wave collapsed buildings, in the words of a survivor, "like a grain field in harvest before a gust of wind." A television producer and Halifax native, Mac Donald draws out her narrative with excessive detail and flat prose, failing to bring her trove of first-person accounts to life. 40 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Well-constructed tale of a horrific unnatural disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917-the largest explosion in world history before the atomic bomb. On the morning of December 6, 1917, a French freighter called the Mont Blanc, laden with high explosives, collided with a Belgian supply ship called the Imo. The collision set stray grains of notoriously unstable picric acid to blazing, touching off other stores, for "every substance in the Mont Blanc's cargo was engineered to blow up"; as the Mont Blanc grounded at the city docks, it went up in a blast that climbed nearly half a mile in the air and evaporated the seawater around it. A tsunami followed, then a rain of oil, then concussion and fire, and soon much of Halifax and the surrounding area was obliterated; every building within 16 miles of the blast was damaged, and almost 2,000 people were killed. The city was unprepared for a disaster of such magnitude, while relief efforts that were organized from as far afield as Boston and New York were hampered by the crowning touch-a huge blizzard that swept across Halifax on the night of the blast, muffling the city in a supernatural shroud. The explosion was followed by moments of grace and bad behavior alike-noble acts of heroism here, ignoble acts of looting there. The author's analysis of the what-ifs and blame-assigning that followed yields surprises-in particular, the official decision on who was at fault. Drawing on accounts by survivors and rescuers, Halifax native Mac Donald paints a scarifying portrait of a unique moment in maritime history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802714589
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura M. Mac Donald is the author of several books and has written and produced award winning television programs and one feature film. A native of Halifax, she lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 26, 2011

    Exciting and Interesting Story of Tragic Event! Great Read!

    "Curse Of The Narrows" is an excellent, interesting, historical read. This is a great book for history lovers and also an exciting story of the way people react and get through horrible tragedy. It is from a time when people led simple lives and communication was not like it is today. I highly recommend this book and would even read it again!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2014

    This is one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read and I

    This is one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read and I read A LOT of nonfiction. It is beautifully written and I was touched by the author's wisdom and empathy. Mac Donald blends the details and facts of the event with the personal stories of the victims of the explosion. I was left with a very good idea of life in the maritime regions of Southeast Canada and New England.

    The Halifax disaster was a major historical event and Laura Mac Donald has written the definitive book about it. She has a wonderful command of the English language, both Canadian and American.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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