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The Great Halifax Explosion

A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism

About the Book

From New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon, a gripping narrative history of the largest manmade detonation prior to Hiroshima: in 1917 a ship laden with the most explosives ever packed on a vessel sailed out of Brooklyn’s harbor for the battlegrounds of World War I; when it stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an extraordinary disaster awaited. . . .

On Monday, December 3, 1917, the French freighter SS Mont-Blanc set sail from Brooklyn carrying the largest cache of explosives ever loaded onto a ship, including 2,300 tons of picric acid, an unstable, poisonous chemical more powerful than TNT. The U.S. had just recently entered World War I, and the ordnance was bound for the battlefields of France, to help the Allies break the grueling stalemate that had protracted the fighting for nearly four demoralizing years. The explosives were so dangerous that Captain Aimé Le Medec took unprecedented safety measures, including banning the crew from smoking, lighting matches, or even touching a drop of liquor.

Sailing north, the Mont-Blanc faced deadly danger, enduring a terrifying snowstorm off the coast of Maine and evading stealthy enemy U-boats hunting the waters of the Atlantic. But it was in Nova Scotia that an extraordinary disaster awaited. As the Mont-Blanc waited to dock in Halifax, it was struck by a Norwegian relief ship, the Imo, charging out of port. A small fire on the freighter’s deck caused by the impact ignited the explosives below, resulting in a horrific blast that, in one fifteenth of a second, leveled 325 acres of Halifax—killing more than 1,000 people and wounding 9,000 more.

In this definitive account, Bacon combines research and eyewitness accounts to re-create the tragedy and its aftermath, including the international effort to rebuild the devastated port city. As he brings to light one of the most dramatic incidents of the twentieth century, Bacon explores the long shadow this first "weapon of mass destruction" would cast on the future of nuclear warfare— crucial insights and understanding relevant to us today.

The Great Halifax Explosion includes 25 black-and-white photos.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

“The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John U. Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.” —GEORGE F. WILL

“When I first encountered the Halifax Explosion, I knew immediately it was a tick-tock of a story just waiting to become a book. John U. Bacon is clearly the perfect writer for the job, able to keep you awake reading hours after your spouse has turned out the lights. In this suspenseful tale of heartbreak and heroism, Bacon deftly recreates a world at war and sheds new light on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.” —BETH MACY, New York Times bestselling author of Factory Man and Truevine

The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.” —DAVID MARANISS, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Once in a Great City

“Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and John Hersey’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. This is a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range.” —DOUG STANTON, New York Times bestselling author of The Odyssey of Echo Company

“John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people. This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book. Highly recommended!” —DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, author of Cronkite

“Bacon documents the terrifying incident in vivid detail. ... An absorbing history of disaster and survival.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062666536
  • ISBN 10: 0062666533
  • Imprint: William Morrow
  • On Sale: 11/07/2017
  • Pages: 432
  • List Price: 36.99 CAD
  • BISAC1: HISTORY / Military / Biological & Chemical Warfare
  • BISAC2: HISTORY / Canada / General
  • BISAC3: HISTORY / Military / World War I

The Great Halifax Explosion by John U. Bacon

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