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

This review of Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, by Stephen Puleo is re-posted from my Goodreads feed.

In January 1919, a 2.3-million-gallon tank of molasses located in Boston’s bustling North End burst, wreaking death and destruction in its wake. Most people — myself included — laugh in disbelief when they first hear of the incident. But the towering wave, which traveled at 35 miles an hour, claimed the lives of 21 people, and transformed the North End into a moonscape, was deadly serious. Puleo does an admirable job of extracting a living tale about this event from dry court records and newspaper accounts.

The circumstances of its construction, its failure, and the criminal and civil trials that followed all serve as a focal point for the major forces sweeping through the country at the beginning of the last century, including industry’s increasing footprint on the American economy, the impact of World War I and the Prohibition, corporate negligence, and the radical anarchist movement.

Puleo’s book focuses on the lives of the individuals surrounding the case — not the major historical figures we usually read about, but the ordinary people who lived and worked in the North End neighborhood, built the molasses tank, managed the plant, and investigated the disaster afterward. His storytelling is grounded in primary sources but manages to bring alive an event that happened almost 100 years ago and had a profound impact on the way business is conducted today.

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