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Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Paperback – September 16, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this volume, Puleo, a contributor to American History magazine, sets out to determine whether the collapse of a molasses tank that sent a tidal wave of 2.3 million gallons of the sticky liquid through Boston's North End and killed 21 people was the work of Italian anarchists or due to negligence by the tank's owner, United States Industrial Alcohol. Getting into the minds of the major players in the disaster-USIA suits, victims, witnesses, North End residents, politicians-he re-creates not only the scene but also the social, political and economic environments of the time that made the disaster more than just an industrial accident. While the collapse's aftermath is tragic, the story itself is not exactly gripping. More interesting are the tidbits of Boston's and America's history, such as the importance of molasses to all U.S. war efforts up to and including WWI, which Puleo uses to put the tank collapse in the context of a very complex time in U.S. history. The most striking aspect of this tale is the timeliness of the topics it touches on. Describing Americans being persecuted because of their ethnicity, a sagging economy boosted by war, and terrorism on U.S. soil that results in anti-immigration laws and deportations, Puleo could just as easily be writing about current events as about events in 1919. Overall, this is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is Boston's long and rich history. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In January, 1919, a fifty-foot tank filled with molasses exploded, sending waves of viscous goo through waterfront Boston and killing twenty-one people. Were Italian anarchists to blame or was it negligence by the tank's owner, the United States Industrial Alcohol company? Such matters form the crux of Puleo's account, which is narrated with gusto (and sometimes too much gusto: one victim has molasses "clinging to his private parts, like an army of insects that just keep coming"). Molasses was a vital commodity at the time, used in rum manufacture (the tank was full to the brim to cash in on pre-Prohibition demand), and it had been important in the production of First World War munitions. Puleo overreaches in claiming the story of the flood as a "microcosm of America"—an almost obligatory conclusion in this sort of history—but his enthusiasm for a little-known catastrophe is infectious.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (September 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807050210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807050217
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (235 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Puleo is author of the Boston Globe best seller The Boston Italians and the critically acclaimedDark 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.

Photo Credit: Patricia Doyle, 2010.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By mwreview on January 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo details the molasses flood that devastated the Commercial Street area in Boston on January 15, 1919. A fifty-foot tall steel tank owned by United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA) collapsed and unleashed 2.3 million gallons of molasses on the congested waterfront district in a fifteen-foot-high wave moving as fast as thirty-five miles per hour. Incredible structural damage resulted as well as over one hundred injuries and a score of deaths. I had never heard of this tragedy until I ran across this book as an recommendation. It seems odd to me that this event is not more widely known due to its unusual nature. Puleo explains that it was considered an "isolated event not connected with larger trends in American history" (x). The author sets out to make these connections throughout his book. The story of January 15, 1919 and its aftermath is interwoven with the most important headlines of the day.

Puleo expertly connects the molasses flood to the Great War (the USIA was distilling molasses for industrial alcohol used in munitions production), anarchism and the Red Scare (the tank was built in a southern Italian district), Prohibition, and the pro-Big Business administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. The author also demonstrates, mostly through the deposition of the USIA assistant treasurer responsible for the tank's construction, the unbelievably rushed and careless manner in which the tank was built. It leaked profusely from the outset. Workers near the tank, even the children in the community, noticed the leaks but the company responded only by occasionally re-caulking the plates and rivets and painting the tank molasses color to make the leaks less noticeable.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Book Maven on September 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book was easy to read and very, very compelling. Until I picked this book up, I'd never heard of the Great Boston Molasses Flood, which is odd, because it's one of the most eerie and fascinating disasters to occur in the 20th Century. Even though you know what's going to happen with the molasses tank, the suspense is dreadful and nightmarish. The author did a wonderful job in bringing all of the strange events and principal characters to vivid life and treating the tragedy with pathos and respect. A nail-biter! Would make a great movie!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paula J. Hoyt on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As a Massachusetts native, I was naturally drawn to this book, having heard vague references over the years to "spilled" molasses in Boston, but not many factual details about this bizarre disaster. But Dark Tide is a story - and I emphasize the word story - that offers so much more. If you're looking for a dry history lesson, look elsewhere. Like any great story, it brings its characters to life. I challenge you to read Dark Tide and not feel compelled to find out what happens to Guiseppe Iantosca's young son and daughter, who liked to play around the doomed molasses tank, or Martin Clougherty, who lived in the shadow of the tank but was on the verge of moving his family to a better life in the suburbs, or firefighter George Layhe, who thought January 15 would be just another day on the job. Of course, Dark Tide has its less-than-lovable characters too, and you'll be drawn to all the ordinary people whose lives were profoundly changed on a balmy January day in 1919. For a story that takes place more than 84 years ago, it offers themes that could be "ripped from today's headlines" - corporate irresponsibility, regulations to ensure public safety, heroic firefighters, and the threat of terrorism. And the courtroom drama in Part Three will leave you hungry for more information on these fascinating characters, in particular, the cross examination of Dark Tide's "bad guys." Read Dark Tide - not because you're a Massachusetts native or a history buff, but because you like a great story.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on January 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Syrupy, sweet, sticky molasses have long been a favorite treat in America. Actually they were more than a treat because for many years molasses were America's primary sweetener. They also were the base ingredient for rum, America's primary beverage in colonial times. It was in fact a tax on molasses that first aroused colonial ire against Parliament. Molasses were also irrevocably associated with Boston because of the famous triangle trade of molasses, rum and slaves. It was no accident then that United States Industrial Alcohol had a distillery near Boston and therefore decided to build a huge molasses storage tank near Boston harbor.

Stephen Puleo has done a masterful job in this book of telling the story of this storage tank; it's construction, use, disintegration and the aftermath. This is a story not just of a disaster but of the social tensions of that era and the callous disregard for human life displayed by big industry in search of war profits. Puelo however, has also managed to make this the story of the victims of this tragedy. The story is riveting in itself but the author's ability to give a human face to the disaster makes this book not only an interesting read but a touching one as well.

United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA) used molasses to make it's product and that industrial alcohol was in turn used by companies like DuPont to make smokeless gunpowder and high explosives for artillery shells. World War I had greatly increased the demand for industrial alcohol and as USIA increased it's production they decided that they needed this molasses storage tank. As Puleo tells his readers about the construction of the tank he begins to introduce his audience to some of the people who lived and worked near by.
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