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.