2015: Dark Tide

"Isaac Gonzalez knew what a terrible thing it was to be afraid at night.  Night fear had robbed him of sleep and drained him of rational thought."

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, Stephen Puleo

This was a perfectly adequate book about a fascinating topic.  Which is a shame, because I'd have liked to read an excellent book about the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, when a huge molasses tank (stupidly put right in the middle of the North End - i.e. a crowded commercial and residential neighborhood), shoddly constructed, eventually gave way, and send 2.3 million of gallons of molasses in a 15 foot high tidal wave into town.  Buildings were destroyed, the train tracks knocked down and 21 people died in agony.  The story of how the tank was built, how the company ignored the warning signs - it wept rivers of molasses down the sides; the company responded by painting it brown so it would be harder to see, is fascinating.  The flood itself, and the horrible ways people died and were injured were interesting - the notion of a molasses flood is a little silly, so you tend to think of it lightly, but it was a true disaster, and a horrible way for people to go.  And the aftermath included a pretty interesting court case, in which the plaintiffs claimed the flood was due to negligence, but the defendant (i.e. the molasses company) tried to pin in it on anarchists.  So you get a whole side bit about anarachy in the 1910's, which is pretty darn interesting too - the material was also covered in The President and the Assassin, but I still want to learn more - there is an interesting parallel between today, with our fear of "terror", and how many bombs were going off the days before the First World War.  Any recs on books about anarchy, leave them below.  

So, as I said, a super interesting story. BUT, the writing is just so-so.  Sentences were clunky, and repetitive (telling me that "Honey" Fitz was grandfather to a president, and then adding a paranthetical that his daugher Rose was the father of JFK.  Got it, Puleo, you just said that).  And sometimes imprecise or a little inaccurate, if you know the actual facts.  But most of all, it seemed like he didn't have the courage of his story - he was constantly writing to emphasize how important and serious this event was.  As if we wouldn't read it if he couldn't convince me that it really, really mattered, and had bigger impact than just an historical oddity.  But I already was reading - save that stuff for the introduction, and then, get out of your own way, Puleo.  Also, I would have liked to have a little more at the end about the long term impact of the flood - he didn't even address the famous rumor that the city continued to smell like molasses on a hot day for years after, which I feel is the only thing anyone in Boston ever says when the molasses flood is brought up.

So, I don't know - it's a really, really interesting book, particularly if you live in Boston (or, like, Newton), but you have to be patient about the writing and just enjoy the facts.


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017