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The Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Millman (The Odds; Pickup Artists), best known for his sports writing, tackles a fascinating but little-known episode in World War I history: the extensive plot by a network of German spies to wreak havoc in the U.S. Their one big success, he observes, was the massive explosion that blew up a spit of land in New York Harbor next to Liberty Island known as Black Tom, including an ammunition depot, and caused extensive damage throughout Manhattan and Jersey City, with reverberations felt as far south as Philadelphia. Millman has delved into the story deeply and with verve, basing much of this fast-paced, thrillerlike tale on affidavits, briefs, memos and letters from those involved in the plot and the long postwar effort to get to the bottom of it. Although the American government had plenty of clues about who was responsible, nothing of substance was done to solve the mystery until the early 1930s when three American lawyers"John McCloy, Amos Peaslee and Harold Martin"set out in earnest to investigate it. Millman's emphasis on the personal stories of the main characters involved in hatching the Black Tom plot and those who solved it makes for gripping reading. 8 b&w photos. (July 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the first two years of World War I, a German government annoyed by American shipments of ammunition to the Allies decided to do something about it. Not content with diplomatically protesting the incompatibility of America's arms sales with its neutral status, the Germans unwisely decided on sabotage. Black Tom Island in New York Harbor exploded on July 30, 1916, killing several and shattering the windows of lower Manhattan. Initially German involvement remained concealed, but after the war, litigation coaxed out the truth. Leading off with the organization of the sabotage campaign, Millman backfills his narrative with revelations brought forth by years of legal proceedings before a German-American commission. From a storytelling perspective, Millman commendably rises above a dry recitation of briefs and rulings, his chief agent being future cold-war figure John J. McCloy, who questioned many implicated in the case. With its obvious contemporary resonance, Millman's able account of an earlier foreign attack on America should draw the espionage audience and more. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 952 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (August 1, 2009)
  • Publication Date: August 1, 2009
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SFDUR2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,690 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Steve Iaco on August 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The title of my review is not meant as an insult to the author. Indeed, I wish to praise him. Whenever I'm intrigued by a book, I'll check out the author's bio on the dust jacket. Chad Millman's credentials: Sports Illustrated, CNNSI, ESPN The Magazine. I thought: What's a guy like this doing writing about history?

My skepticism proved groundless. Millman has produced a well-researched, highly engaging, elegantly written chronicle about the German Fifth columnists who operated in the U.S. prior to America's involvement in WW I. The German sabotage campaign culminated in the explosion of the munitions depot on Black Tom Island in New York Harbor in 1916. Millman vividly re-creates the events that led up to this sordid incident, and the decades-long quest to hold the German government to account for it.

The complex storyline involves a long cast of characters, and the author helpfully publishes a list of them at the outset of the book. One of them, the German military attache who masterminded a counterfeit passport operation, would go on to briefly lead the German government in the waning days of the Weimar Republic. However, the most famous of Black Tom's characters is John McCloy, the intrepid lawyer whose indefatigable pursuit of justice (aided by two other attorneys) was a springboard to a prominent role in military intelligence during WW II, as a senior aide to War Secretary Henry Stimson. McCloy was later appointed the first High Commissioner in West Germany after the war, and served as an advisor to Presidents until his death in 1989.

Millman writes in a captivating narrative style that makes "The Detonators" a quick, pleasing read. But I ended the book still wondering how and when he became interested in the long-forgotten Black Tom story. I wish he would have told us.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dwight Messimer on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Detonators is an easy read because Chad Millman is a good story-teller, but the book is full of errors in fact. Here are a few examples.
On page 36 Millman describes the meeting between the German spy Franz von Rintelen and Paul G. L. Hilken. According to Millman, von Rintelen "summoned" Hilken to New York where they met in the Ritz Hotel. But according to a report written by Bureau of Investigation, Special Agent William R. Benham on 13 September 1916, Hilken told him that he was in New York on business and staying in the Astor Hotel when Rintelen contacted him by phone. Rintelen came to the Astor and introduced himself, providing a letter of introduction from Captain W. Bartling of the North German Lloyd Company.

On page 56 he writes that in January 1915 Hilken was ordered to report to Berlin by February 1915. Actually the instructions he received came from Karl Stapelfeld who was a Norddeutsche Lloyd director and the General Director of the Deutsche Ozean Reederei, and his instructions were to go to Bremen where the NDL headquarters were located. When he finished there, Stapelfeld sent Hilken to the Deutschebank in Berlin to obtain credits for the establishment of the Eastern Forwarding Company in Baltimore.

On page 58, Millman has Hilken going to the Reichstag wherein, he writes, were located the parliament, war offices, and the publicity and censorship offices. In fact, only the parliament was housed in the Reichstag. Designed by Paul Wallot and dedicated on 5 December 1894, the Reichstag held both chambers; the Reichstag (lower house) and the Bundesrat (upper house). There wasn't enough office space for the legislators in the building much less several other government agencies.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael on July 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I got this book while on vacation because the cover caught my interst. I ended up not being able to put the book down.

This book describes sabotage episodes that occurred right before the U.S. entry into WWI. Even more, the book gives details of the persistence of efforts between the two world wars to prove that Germany conducted this sabotage.

It is a fascinating portrait of the many characters involved, and a well written account of episodes in our history that I had never heard of before, despite reading quite a bit of history. I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in history.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By PMY on August 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful read - interesting, relevant and timely, and better than fiction. Millman has struck an excellent balance, weaving facts into a captivating narrative that is a perfect book for relaxed reading. Books like THE DETONATORS should be part of curricula in high school and college history courses because it brings history alive. Impressive that a sports guy can turn such an excellent page-turner.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Horn on April 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Picked this book off a bargain shelf locally not knowing what to expect. As a retired intelligence officer, I scoop up bits and pieces of history; in this case expecting an incomplete or inaccurate picture of Germany's espionage network in the US prior to WWI.

What I got instead both surprised and greatly pleased me. This story makes a great summer time or rainy day book.

As a not so great fan of Woodrow Wilson's assault on the Constitutional rights of US citizens during WWI - I see a slightly different take on a President forced into war by Germany's 'death by a 1,000 cuts'. Between unrestricted submarine warfare; the sinking of the Lusitania - and the Zimmerman letter trying to draw Mexico into a war with the United States - I see how Wilson was pushed into a decision for WAR against Germany!

With such a large German population on the East Coast, New York (Yonkers), New Jersey (Jersey City) and Baltimore, Maryland - it became clear that Wilson had an anti-war and demographic problem siding against the Brits and French and had to start a large propaganda campaign on the American people to wake them up to the German threat. I was very unaware that many Germans living in the United States tried every way possible to return to Germany to serve in the German Army (the US not entering the war till 1917). The resentment of the American Irish against America's ally - England - (because of England's heavy handedness subduing insurrection in their native Ireland) also with huge demographics in the United States weighted heavily on Wilson's treatment of the American population in general. The Alien and Sedition Act came out of Wilson's nervousness with his own citizens.
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