Curse of the Narrows

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Set against the vivid backdrop of WWI, CURSE OF THE NARROWS chronicles the catastrophic explosion that shattered Halifax. Utilizing primary sources, including the files of the ... explosion's official historian plus medical and social workfiles - many of which have not been read since 1019 - the book provides the definitive narrative history of what took place on December 6, 1917, in Halifax, Nova Scotia: the collision of a munitions ship's collision with a vessel in the narrows, triggering an explosion that destroyed much of the city. Within minutes a tsunami engulfed parts of the waterfront. That evening a blizzard buried Halifax. Appendices; Notes, Sources, Index. Illus., b&w photos. 356p. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The dramatic story of one of the greatest disasters in history

In 1917, the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was crowded with ships leaving for war-torn Europe. On December 6th, two of them—the Mont Blanc and the Imo—collided in the Narrows, a hard-to-navigate stretch of the harbor. Ablaze, and with explosions on her deck filling the sky, the Mont Blanc grounded against the city’s docks.

As thousands rushed to their windows and into the streets to watch, she exploded with such force that the 3,121 tons of her iron hull vaporized in a cloud that shot up more than 2,000 feet; the explosion was so unusual that Robert Oppenheimer would study its effects to predict the devastation of an atomic bomb. The blast caused a giant wave that swept over parts of the city, followed by a slick, black rain that fell for ten minutes. Much of the city was flattened, and not one in 12,000 buildings within a 16-mile radius left undamaged. More than 1,600 Haligonians were killed and 6,000 injured; and within twenty-four hours, a blizzard had isolated Halifax from the world.

Set vividly against the background of World War I, Curse of the Narrows is the first major account of the world’s largest pre-atomic explosion, the epic relief mission from Boston, and the riveting trial of the Mont Blanc’s captain and pilot. Laura M. Mac Donald is as adept at describing the dynamics of a chain reaction explosion as she is at chronicling unforgettable human dramas of miraculous survival, unfathomable loss, and the medical breakthroughs in pediatrics and eye surgery that followed the disaster

.

Using primary sources—many of which haven’t been read in decades and—with a wonderful feel for narrative history, Mac Donald chronicles one of the most compelling and dramatic events of the 20th century.

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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: 9780802715104
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 11/14/2006
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 372
  • Product dimensions: 5.93 (w) x 7.87 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 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!

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