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Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

4.1 83
by Stephen Puleo

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Around noon on January 15, 1919, a group of firefighters was playing cards in Boston's North End when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window-"Oh my God!" he shouted to the other men, "Run!"


Around noon on January 15, 1919, a group of firefighters was playing cards in Boston's North End when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window-"Oh my God!" he shouted to the other men, "Run!"

A 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses had just collapsed on Boston's waterfront, disgorging its contents as a 15-foot-high wave of molasses that at its outset traveled at 35 miles an hour. It demolished wooden homes, even the brick fire station. The number of dead wasn't known for days. It would be years before a landmark court battle determined who was responsible for the disaster.

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Beacon Press
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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4 MB

Meet the Author

Stephen Puleo is author of the Boston Globe best seller The Boston Italians and the critically acclaimed Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor to American History magazine, he holds a master's degree in history and wrote his thesis on Italian immigration and the settlement of Boston's North End. He donates a portion of his book proceeds to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the leading charitable funder and advocate of juvenile (Type 1) diabetes research. He and his wife, Kate, live in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

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Dark Tide 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 83 reviews.
ChocolateChip More than 1 year ago
This book tells the story of a disaster that has been kept in the shadows since its occurrence in 1919. Many native Bostonians do not even know of the immense molasses flood that destroyed their home town almost a century ago. This book is the first full accounting of the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. It starts by explaining the need for an enormous 2.3 million gallon molasses tank in Boston and continues through the extensive civil lawsuit that followed a decade after the flood. The first few chapters of this book are written in the eyes of a few workers that helped build and oversee the production of the tank. The reader gets an inside look at how the tank was completed, the dangers of being a crew member for the tank and the reason that caused a tragedy where twenty-one innocent people lost their lives. The next few chapters touch upon life outside of the molasses tank. The 20th Century was the time of World War I, Prohibition, the anarchist movement, immigration and the expanding of big businesses. This book not only describes the Molasses Flood, it gives incredible detail on other issues that were also present at the time of the flood. Vast detail is given of every event that took place the day of the massive flood. A full chapter is dedicated to remembrance of those who lost their lives and were injured by the flood. Also, the extent of the damage is recalled and first-hand pictures are shown for enhancement. The final chapters show the public's reaction to the flood, as well as details about the multiyear lawsuit and an explanation of why the flood was considered "One of the worst catastrophes." This book was compelling, interesting and informative and it has made the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 more well-known throughout the country. I would greatly recommend this book.
NZP More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. Parts are quite upsetting since people died fairly horrible deaths, but if you can get past that, it is worth it. It is so well written and so fascinating. I agree with others that it brings out all of the nuances of this disaster- class struggles, immigrant issues, the historical setting, corporate greed, etc.
Lady_Kaira More than 1 year ago
The subject was interesting, I had never heard of this event until now. I did not like the style of the author however. I felt he got a bit long winded and draggy describing individual people involved before ever getting to the tragic accident. I would only recommend this to those who are real history buffs.
Mel-NMRHS More than 1 year ago
This novel tells the story of the 1919 molasses flood in Boston. A molasses holding tank was built on the commercial street wharf. It had the ability to hold about 26 million gallons of molasses. On January 15, 1919 2.3 million gallons of molasses flood Boston's North End. The cause of this flood was faulty engineering, and a gas bubble formed by the mixing of the cold molasses and warm molasses from a new shipment. The result is a four fronted 25 foot high, 160 foot wide tidal wave that caused catastrophic damage, and multiple deaths. All structures surrounding the tank were destroyed. It took a many, many hours of man power to clear the destruction, using salt water to cut the hardened molasses. It was headline news all over the country, and Boston has never seen a disaster quite like this since.

It is clear the amount of research that Puleo put into this book. He uses characters from all ranges of the spectrum. He incorporates many important landmarks and events in Boston. His book not only gives insight into the happenings of the molasses flood but also a picture of what Boston was like through many important events in American history. He talks of the effects of World War II on Boston, such as the gathering of Bostonians on the Boston Common before Wilson's speech in April 1917. His great knowledge of American history, and his extensive research of Boston's North End make for a informative and intimate novel. His characters are so diverse that it is hard not to relate to something or someone in this story. All New Englanders should read this novel, it shows the true Boston. It shows Bostonians coming together to help each other in a time when the city was greatly divided by heritage and class. This is a smart read, with great voice and meaning. This story needed to be told.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book is like hearing a story rather than reading history. It gives accurate details and explains the politics of the time, while telling the stories of some of the victims. Extremely entertaining for non-fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is not only entertaining but is also insightful to that period in time. The history and the events both nationally and locally enrich the setting of this story. I felt as though I was living in the moment. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo is a thoroughly researched, historically interesting look at what seems like an impossible event: a molasses flood in a congested and busy part of Boston in 1919. There are 3 parts of the book: part 1 consists of the human interest aspect of the current and past immigrant residents of the North End and their lives. Part 2 is the engineering aspect about how the molasses tank was built, why it was built, and what made it fail. Part 3 is about the legal aspects of the molasses flood and the lawsuit brought about by the survivors and those who lost their lives during the flood. Dark Tide takes you back in time to Boston just before WWI through prohibition. You can see the struggles of the immigrants in the North End, feel the pain of those who were injured or lost loved ones in the molasses flood, and get a sense of how big business allowed the catastrophe to happen all because of greed and irresponsible behavior for economic advancement.
Alex Espinal More than 1 year ago
Very interesting historical detail while still being an amazing story.
Tbirdmon1211 More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed the book. I thought that Stephen Puleo did a very good job of introducing the very many different vantage points of the flood and of the events that had lead up to it. He talked about how much the company had needed the tank due to the huge demand from America’s allies fighting in WW1, as well as how this developed into faulty engineering because they were attempting to rush the completion of it. The beginning I thought was the most interesting when he was going through the workers point of view. Saying how a few of the workers had mentioned that the molasses tank was leaking heavily and constantly looking like it was going to collapse. As well as all the dangers that the workers had faced while building the tank, for a quick example one worker had fallen into the tank and had died. Also this showed how little concern the management had when building the tank because when they heard about it, they were still far more concerned with making sure it was completed on time then about any of the workers safety. Other than the molasses flood directly he also talked about the society in Boston at the time with the massive immigration of Italians to the area. And how many of them were anarchist. Many of the anarchists Italians were causing trouble with the construction because the molasses it was storing was being used to supply military operations in Europe, which they were largely against. This lead to them having to keep police around, out of fear of one of them going after it. Overall like I said I really enjoyed this book mainly because I enjoyed the history behind it. The molasses flood was also something I had never really been aware of before I read this.
MdExTx More than 1 year ago
Fascinating account of an incident that took place in Boston, MA that I'd never heard of before I found this book. The author did not just tell us about the rupture of the tank which sent 2.3 million gallons of molasses over a crowded section of the city, but also introduced us to some of the people who worked for the company who owned the tank and people who lived and worked in the neighborhood. Puleo is a trained historian, and places the event in the context of history and relates it to the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, World War I, and the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson, Warren G Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Even with all the history, it reads well and is enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In today's political climate with the popularity of plans to further reduce government regulation of business, Dark Tide becomes a beacon of light regarding why regulations are needed & why some which have been removed should be reactivated. Yes, businesses are human, too, and as such they are subject to the same frailties and need the same firm limitations. The history of the great molasses flood in Boston in 1919 is not simply the chronicle of a disaster. It offers with superb journalistic & historical skill object lessons regarding not only regulatory needs but immigration problems that exist to this day & indicates solutions that history shows have been effective. In addition, Dark Tide tells its well-documented tale in a compelling narrative, a genuine page-turner.
RRPNC More than 1 year ago
The Dark Tide is a slow read but it portrays the time period of 1919 very well. If you are a Boston history buff, you will definitely enjoy this book!
EdieMI More than 1 year ago
I found this to be a fascinating story about an event that I knew nothing about prior to reading this book. I am not a history buff, but this grabbed my attention and I even checked it out to make sure that it was a true story and not a tale of fiction. Well written and informative.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of a little remembered tragedy when in 1919 molasses flooded the waterfront area of the city. Very well written. Readers might also enjoy "A City So Grand" by the same author.
Keg-Runner More than 1 year ago
Fascinating! True-life drama every bit as intense as fiction. We think we live in frightening times today with the threat of terrorism, but we tend to forget or maybe we were never taught about this very troubling time in US history when anarchists terriorized the country. Not to mention the trial - as a big time corporation so readily allows the anarchists to take the blame rather than face a charge of negligence (sound familiar). Great little read for anyone who wants to learn a lot about the pre and post WWI era in the US and entertain (and impress) their friends with this true, but little-known piece of history.
HJW More than 1 year ago
A little known (to me) but important incident in Boston History. Stephen Puleo links this disaster to timely issues: Professional Competence and regulation; Corporate Greed and Responsibility; Class action lawsuits; and government corruption. Reads like a good novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a good book with historically correct references to the way people lived during the catastrophe.
DrBobI More than 1 year ago
A fascinating account of one of the most little-known events in our history. Puleo has done a masterful job of weaving together fact and human interest to tell a tale of human suffering and corporate skulduggery. The parallels to the issues of today are many and unsettling. Heroes and villains enough for any reader!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had never heard of this incident and the intro even covers the possible whys of the flood's relegation to historic footnote status. Boston is a busy town in terms of history so it's just another episode. It's tidy tale with drama, tragedy, justice and injustice. Read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a touching story about a very unusual event in Bostons history. It was well written and it was nice how real the characters were portrayed. I couldn't put the book down and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes to read about historical events.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had never hear of this in history or perhaps forgotten it but it was very interesting.
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