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Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,021 ratings  ·  141 reviews
The events of the horrific Halifax explosion are well documented: on December 6, 1917, the French munitions ship Mont Blanc and the Belgian relief ship Imo collide in the Halifax harbour. Nearly 2,000 people are killed; over 9,000 more are injured. The story of one of the world’s worst non-natural disasters has been told before, but never like this.

In a sweeping narrative,
Hardcover, 356 pages
Published September 19th 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This story makes the case for a phenomena that Malcolm Gladwell describes in Outliers in which in order for a horrific accident to occur 6 or 7 things have to go wrong simultaneously and that definitely happened here. The combination of a narrow passage, a ship fully packed with TNT and 2 sorts of highly flammable bomb making ingredients and another ship coming towards the first ship and ignoring maritime laws for safe passage created a recipe for disaster. Then, after the collision, with no way ...more
I have some issues with the book but I have to say that MacDonald has crafted a tidy account of what has to be the biggest disaster in Canadian history. Without belaboring the obvious and summarizing the book, I will merely state that she starts at the beginning and carries on to way past the end of the disaster...and what a disaster! More than 2000 killed and 6000 wounded in the largest man-made explosion to predate the atom bomb.

There is much that is gruesome in these pages, and no end of
Sep 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I had never heard of the Halifax disaster. After reading this book I can't imagine why. This is an event of catastrophic consequence. To imagine the power of 2,925 tons of TNT exploding.... the results of which are unimaginable to anyone that was not there. But this author does a amazing job of putting you there!!! This book was incredible. The Halifax disaster is truly a tragic yet amazing event. No matter what you like to read.... this book should be good to anyone and everyone. Plus I noticed ...more
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ww1, canada
MacDonald describes how the tragedy occurred, and what different spectators saw around them as the Imo careened into the Mount Blanc. Today, the whole world watches tragedies like this from every angle (and aerial too) on TV. It took 90 years after the fact to have a definitive work on the Halifax explosion. In our media age, as Katrina occurred, millions of published words, photos, videos and accounts documented it.

While information has been revolutionized since then, human nature thankfully
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, war
Breathetakingly written account of the Dec. 6th, 1917 collision in Halifax Harbour of the French ship carrying high explosives and munitions that was waiting to join a convoy to cross the Atlantic. The Mont Blanc was carrying the highly volital to shock picric acid, TNT, Benzol, monochlorobenzal and munitions. She was struck by a Belgium Relief ship the Imo who was light and had limited capacity to maneuver as her props were half out of the water.
The explosion ripped through the earth at 13,320
I picked this after hearing about the release of a book about the same topic, though written by an American. The Halifax Explosion was the explosion of the Mont Blanc that destoryed a good section of the city. (The Mont Blanc's anchor traveled miles). MacDonald details the events leading up to the explosion as well as the aftermath. She also looks at how society treated the different sections of society - for instance the Mi'kmaq damages and deaths were ignored and whites saw the First Nation ...more
Oct 21, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seems like a good introduction to the event (which I was totally unaware of) although it deals pretty superficially with the cause of the explosion itself.

Covers some interesting details of such a catastrophe that you wouldn't have predicted. Like the problem of family pets eating human remains left in the rubble. Or that no churches except one held services for the first week because all the clergymen were too busy giving last rites or presiding over funerals.

Oh oh! Also, the recollections of
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Each December the people of Boston gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Some of them probably do not know why the people of Halifax send a tree every year or even that it is a gift from Nova Scotia. No one needs to know the story behind a tree to admire its beauty. But the people of Halifax know where it comes from and they remember the story.

The above is not actually the blurb for the book; it's just a quick introductory paragraph, but I found it somehow more affecting
This isn't a true three-star rating, but I feel like two stars is too harsh. If anything, the amount of research deserves to be recognized!

I'm a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, but this book didn't always work for me. The topic itself is fascinating, but the book was oddly paced and somewhat difficult to follow. The climax of the book, the ship collision and explosion, happens approximately 40 pages into the work, and the book itself is nearly 300 pages long. That's a lot of post-incident
Jan C
Feb 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disaster, wwi
Let's face it, I enjoy a good disaster book. And this was one disaster I had never heard of. I've never been to Halifax. But I guess I'm half-Canadian.

This was one of the best. Well researched, possibly a bit graphic. But this was like a perfect storm of chain reactions - a disaster in the harbor, causes a tsunami, causes a blizzard. The explosion in the harbor should have been enough. MacDonald goes in to vivid detail of how the explosion impacted the surrounding area. Then, those who survived
Gabriele Wills
Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, ww1
A gripping, well-written account of a tragic disaster that is too little known. How many of us Canadians grew up thinking that the First World War just happened in Europe? More Canadians died on the 'home front" in Halifax than during the 103 bombing raids on England.
Dec 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The port area of the city of Halifax as well as Dartmouth across the river were nearly wiped from the face of any map with the collision of two freighters, the Imo and the Mont Blanc on December 6, 1917. The Mont Blanc was carrying 3,000 tons! of explosives and the blast was heard as rumble as far away Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. The crew of a fishing boat entering Boston Harbor asked if there had been a nearby explosion since they had heard it as well. Ships over fifty miles away saw ...more
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2017
Book Description
Before Hiroshima, there was Halifax. In 1917 the busy Canadian port was crowded with ships leaving for war-torn Europe. On December 6, two of them, the Mont Blanc and the Imo, collided in the hard-to-navigate Narrows of the harbor. Within minutes, the Mont Blanc, ablaze, grounded against the city's docks. The explosion that followed would devastate the city and shock the world.
Set against the background of World War I, Curse of the Narrows is the first major account of the
Holly (The Grimdragon)
Each December the people of Boston gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Some of them probably do not know why the people of Halifax send a tree every year or even that it is a gift from Nova Scotia. No one needs to know the story behind a tree to admire its beauty. But the people of Halifax know where it comes from and they remember the story.

Most of us growing up in Canada around my age demographic, will remember the Canadian Heritage Minutes. They are such a beloved,
Aug 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's a little unsettling to me that prior to reading Curse of the Narrows I had never heard of the explosion that caused so much devastation in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917. When the munitions ship, Mont Blanc, collided with the Belgian Relief vessel, Imo, on that fateful day none of the inhabitants in Richmond could have predicted the loss that their town would incur. I have to admit that at the outset of this book I was struggling to comprehend what was occurring as much of the ...more
Michael Flanagan
Curse of the Narrows relives the horror of the 1917 Halifax maritime disaster that nearly wipe the port and its inhabitants of the map. I am ashamed I had never heard of this piece of history the devastation, loss of life and suffering caused by it is truly of biblical proportions.

The events are told by the those who lived through the horror by the stitching together of numerous first hand accounts, as well as some poetic license. The author also does a good job of putting the disaster in the
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was okay. It would have done well as an "American Crime Story" style AMC/HBO series.
There are a lot of loops and turns, and it's simultaneously about the Halifax Harbour Explosion and many other insane things that occasionally only related to it superficially.

The writing was a little sloppy at times and the ebook version (and I suppose the physical book version as well at times) was in desperate need of editing. I don't know how many times I encountered the ship "Imo" written as
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pretty good. Shame about the American spellings in a book about a Canadian / British event though.
Thomas Paul
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
On December 6, 1917, the most powerful human created non-nuclear explosion occurred in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. The explosion occurred when a French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, entering Halifax Harbor collided with a ship carrying relief supplies for Belgium, the Imo, which was sailing out of the harbor. The Mont Blanc was literally a floating bomb carrying TNT, gun cotton, and picric acid, all high explosives that were capable of simultaneous detonation. With the collision, benzol ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book. Each chapter focuses on some aspect of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, organized in loosely chronological orders. Starts with setting the political, economic and military context of Halifax leading up to and during WWI and the principal parties involved. The events of the fateful morning, reconstructed from eyewitness accounts and testimony, are detailed early in the book. The main part of the book is an account, weaving local history with many personal narratives of ...more
Jed Sorokin-Altmann
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In 1917, there was an explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia's harbor. Two ships had collided, one of which was laden with munitions intended for use in World War I, and when it blew up, it was the largest man-made explosion in history until the Trinity atomic bomb tests. The explosion devastated Halifax and its neighboring communities. Laura MacDonald's book is a gripping read of the how the explosion occurred, what the effects were, and what the aftermath was.

This book may be of particular interest
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My great great aunt was Decapitated and her sister left without a scratch one of them was seven and the other one was five they were both knocked off their feet but when the five-year-old tried looking for sister she just found a head they think her body was washed away into the ocean
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There have only been a handful of times in my life that i've not finished a book I've started. What could be a great account of a truly horrible, tragic event reads like a gorefest slasher flick screenplay. There is an over abundance of detail in describing the injuries people suffered in this explosion that took place in the bay of Halifax - only atomic bombs have caused greater explosions. But do I need 4 straight pages describing the awful details of what happens when people get glass in ...more
Jennifer (the_pumpkin_reads)
3.5 stars. I thought the book was really well written, but I don't think I particularly enjoy this Type of book. I found myself bored by some of the information, and wanting to linger on other topics.

It's an important part of history that I didn't learn about in school and that's why I think this books are so essential, however, still- it didn't quite do it for me. First half was definitely better (for me) than the second.
Shanlon Gilbert
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Easily the best book about the Halifax Explosion I have read - and I have read many by this point.
Mar 25, 2008 rated it liked it
A gripping account of an event I never knew occured until I visited Halifax this past Oct. Well written but a bit drawn out.
Jason Speck
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
At 9:04:35 am on December 6, 1917, 6.8 million pounds of explosives, the biggest man-made blast prior to Hiroshima, detonated in the heavily populated port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. 1,600 people were killed instantly; entire neighborhoods disintegrated as a blast wave traveling at over 13,000 mph ripped through the city. In the immediate aftermath a tsunami swamped the city, and nighttime brought a blizzard to a community with no electricity, no undamaged buildings, and thousands of stunned and ...more
Jim Yarin
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This story could have been more disciplined in its presentation. I need a narrative that is well organized, unlike this one which skips around to various characters without enough connectivity to prevent me from wondering, “yeah, what happened previously to this person, again?“ The author has endeavored to include everything from all of her sources, without enough filtering. The result is an in-depth review of what is known about the disaster, for a book this size, but a lack of emphasis on any ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disasters
I've had a penchant for disasters ever since I read about Pompeii and the Titanic circa first grade, but it wasn't until my first Christmas living in Boston that I learned about the Halifax Disaster of 1917, thanks to the tradition of Nova Scotia sending us a Christmas tree as a thanks for the help Boston send over in the wake of the disaster. Everything about the disaster - the WW1 setting, the ship explosion, the subsequent blizzard - intrigued me, and I knew I had to know more.

I work with a
This novel was a great nonfiction about the Halifax explosion of 1917. Although I learned about in elementary school I didn’t get nearly as much depth or detail that I obtained from this novel.

This novel does a great job of describing everybody who was impacted: from the sailors to the citizens to everyday doctors. The novel does get a little graphic as there is quite a bit of detail on how many eyes were removed everyday or about dogs that were separated from their owners and therefore forced
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I was born in Halifax. I've lived in Montreal, Toronto and New York. Consequently, I can no longer remember the preferred pronunciation and sometimes spelling of certain words such as process, route, pasta, cheque etc., but I do know that no one in Canada says aboot. It's more like a-boat.

Here is an explanation I stole from a Yahoo. "Non-CDNS will hear "house" as a 'funny' word, because the vowel
“quiet courage. "It's not the courage that allows you to run into a burning building. It's the kind that allows you to accept the unacceptable, bear the unbearable, keep going.” 0 likes
“The Mont Blanc, with 2,925 tons of explosives in barrels and kegs, packed in hermetically sealed holds inside a super-heated hull, was now the most powerful bomb the war and the world had ever produced.” 0 likes
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