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Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
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Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,813 Ratings  ·  422 Reviews
Around noon on January 15, 1919, a group of firefighters was playing cards in Boston's North End when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window-"Oh my God!" he shouted to the other men, "Run!"

A 50-foo
Paperback, 280 pages
Published September 16th 2004 by Beacon Press (first published 2003)
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I couldn’t help but be incredulous about a “molasses flood.” I was doing research into what books I wanted to read for my “Winter 2013 Disaster Read,” which I originally intended to be about natural disasters, but quickly morphed into disasters in general, and I stumbled across this book. Lo and behold a week later it went onto the Kindle Daily Deal and I snatched it up. It’s almost like Amazon knew (eyes dart back and forth quickly). I originally had this idea of the molasses/cornflake lava tha ...more
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-history
This historical event is yet another example of the truthiness of Hanlon's Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” In this case, a cowardly middle manager with no relevant experience cuts corners to please his clueless bosses, constructing a huge, dangerous, leaky tower for molasses in a crowded slum. He disregards direct pleas from people who work at the structure and feel that it is dangerous, insisting that he, the middle manager, knows better. Howe ...more
Jun 20, 2011 rated it liked it
I liked, but not loved, this accessibly written book. I had no idea that there had been such an event, and the thought of it was pretty horrific. For all neo-cons, this is what happens when industry and corporations are left to regulate themselves. There is a reason for inspections and oversight of big business. To think of the corners that were cut in the name of saving money and profit at the expense of lives is completely deplorable. Also, the cost of the clean up must have been astronomical ...more
Newport Librarians
Did you ever hear of the “great molasses flood” in Boston? I grew up hearing about this event – probably because it took place in and around Boston’s North End, and we had ties to and visited the North End frequently. But even I took the reality of this event with a grain of salt.

But it actually happened. Around noon on January 15th, 1919, a fifty-foot-tall tank FILLED with over 2 million gallons of thick, black molasses collapsed – creating a massive tidal wave (fifteen feet high, some say) tha
May 26, 2007 rated it liked it
Anyone who had parents who grew up in Boston heard the story passed down about the great Molasses Flood. It was usually told in an offhand manner, ending with "on a hot day you can still smell the molasses". This is the whole story, and there isn't anything offhand about it. A very good piece of social, as well as labor history. I, of course, ended up taking the book to the scene of the crime and retracing the steps. Fascinating.
Kathleen Valentine
Jun 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
This fascinating book tells the story of one of the most bizarre disasters in our country's history. In 1919, on the eve of Prohibition, a storage silo in Boston's North End was being filled with molasses which was about to be shipped off to be turned into alcohol. In the cold of January the tank was half filled with nearly a million gallons of molasses. The tank had been leaking for years. Children from the neighborhood came daily with their buckets to collect the leaked molasses for their moth ...more
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was blown away by this, how could something this huge have happened and I didn't know? It also made me wish I knew all history, every single interesting event that ever happened. So, in 1919, there was a gigantic molasses flood in Boston, which is interesting enough. Add in the political climate of the times, with anarchists in every doorway, a changing Federal climate, corporations more concerned with profit than safety, and a bunch of hard-working people doing their level best to keep their ...more
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book was great - a nonfiction re: the "Great Molasses Spill" in the North End in 1919. I had heard of the disaster (in which 21 people lost their lives, hundreds were injured and multiple structures destroyed). But, I had absolutely NO IDEA of the events tied in with the Sacco & Vanzetti and the anarchist movement, World War I, the rum/slavery/molasses triangle trade. Having connections in the North End helped keep me interested during the descriptions of the legal ramific ...more
I absolutely loved this book! What struck me most was the fact that Stephen Puleo gave the molasses flood a number of human faces. The majority of the book is narrative by and about the people involved in the flood. The rest of the book is a chronicle of the time period. A huge part of this book is about showing the world of the mid 1910s and into the twenties, spanning the anarchist and labor movements, World War I, the rise of big business, and prohibition. Many of the quotes in Dark Tide reso ...more
Lee Regan
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
p. 197
"In a Memorial Day speech in the near future, Odgen [Judge Hugh Ogden soldier-lawyer who presided over the lawsuit against USIA with heroic impartiality:]would observe: "We have prospered. We have sold goods at high prices. We have accumulated the largest stock of gold any nation ever possessed, but have we done anymore than that? Have we in our blindness gained the whole world and lost our own soul? It was not to ensure material prosperity that our soldiers fought and died...that the rel
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Bostonians, lawyers, or anyone interested in the history of the early 20th century
Recommended to Kurt by: Dennis Lehane, in his list of sources for The Given Day
The Boston Molasses Flood is my favorite quirky historical moment in Boston, and this book showed me how much I didn't know about the tragedy. Puleo is a powerful historian, weaving together a wide context of political movements, changing views of big business, and military technologies into a hammock in which to rest this one event of 1919. He draws from contemporary newspaper accounts, personal correspondence, and thousands of pages of trial transcripts to present well-documented portraits of ...more
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history trivia mavens
Shelves: non-fiction, ipad

“So that this steel reservoir contained on the day of the accident a weight of molasses equal to 130 hundred-ton locomotive engines…or thirteen thousand Ford automobiles.”

History, mystery, and courtroom drama, with the singularly bizarre circumstance of, as my friend, Newengland so well phrased it, "death by molasses.” Oh yeah, and along with a major disaster, there's a World War, the Great Influenza Pandemic, the onset of prohibition, and bun
Dec 01, 2012 rated it liked it
It almost sounds like a bad movie plot - a large tank that held over 2 million gallons of molasses burst in a busy neighborhood of Boston, causing a huge wave of the sticky substance to engulf people, animals, and buildings. However this was not fiction, this really happened in January of 1919 and the gush of molasses caused tremendous damage to homes and businesses, as well as the lives of about twenty people. This is an excellent work of well researched nonfiction that chronicles the establish ...more
Feb 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: benicia
The writing style was a bit overwrought for my taste at times, so let's compare it to all the other books out there about the Great Molasses Flood, oh wait, there aren't any.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it

COMBINE: incompetence, United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA) leadership ignoring and covering up obvious problems (Hey – molasses is leaking through the seams of this gray tank and soaking the ground. If we have the tank painted rust-color and put wood chips on the ground, no one will be able to tell. Now we just have to keep shooing away the neighborhood kids who keep sneaking in to collect molasses and firewood), dishonest steel suppliers, anarchists in the woodworks…

And SHAKE (or just pump

Tracy Fleming-Swehla
Reading this for my bookclub discussion was my main motivation to actually slog through the lawyer-y-ness of this very dry but very interesting book. I found it extremely boring, but the event of the molasses tank crashing down on Boston is horrifying.

This book is so well researched and I'm glad to know the story. I understand, after forcing myself to read on, why so many details were included about the trial, the history of Ogden and other backstory details of people and events...the details h
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Material is basically a legal battle, a political thriller, social commentary, anticap yelling, and slice-of-life history, wrapped around a fascinating/terrifying engineering disaster. I'm a nerd and a Boston transplant and found it really interesting, although Puleo may need some time away from italics formatting.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had heard about the Great Boston Molasses Flood, but this book brings to life the story behind it. From the innocent lives it took, to an era of corporate greed, to the pre- and post-WWI America, to the anti-immigrant feeling of the time, Mr. Puleo's book is highly accessible, readable and just plain good! Recommended for history buffs who want to perhaps learn something new.
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
a fabulous read about so much more than the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. an overview of The Great War and Italian anarchists in America, including Sacco and Vanzetti and the ridiculous Michael Dukakis.
Josiah Jost
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Fascinating piece of history that, surprisingly, is vastly untold to today’s generation. I just felt the author stretched it to be twice as long as it should have been.
Timons Esaias
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
First, let me say this is one of those books you remember for a long time, and which is likely to be kept in print for a long time, because it does its basic job so well. You can write a book about a local historical event, and miss the bigger picture; or you can write a historical book that is almost all historical context but which ends up with no meat on the actual bone (I'm thinking of the recent Henry Hudson book, Fatal Journey); and too often the history bookshelves are choked with one or ...more
Robert Beveridge
Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 (Beacon Press, 2003)

When I finished reading this book, there was still snow on the ground. Here we are enjoying a string of ninety-plus days that has stretched on seemingly endlessly. It's been four months and a few days, to be more precise. I've been mulling over what to say about Dark Tide ever since. I don't know why I haven't come up with anything; I enjoyed it quite a bit, and if it's not still as fresh in my memory as it was
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Dark Tide is a well-written history of the collapse of a 2.3 million gallon molasses tank that occurred in Boston in 1919. The book encompasses the events from the inception of the molasses storage tank (Part I), through the tank’s collapse (Part II), to the ensuing litigation (Part III). The book is well-researched and well-written. Puleo clearly knows the subject matter. Aided by, among other thing, thousands of pages of court transcripts, he is able to effectively bring the people connected t ...more
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture
Like the vast majority of the American public, I had only heard faint reports of this event in the early 20th Century, and most of the time what it sounded like was some kind of urban legend. Did it even happen at all or is it just a clever story to tell the Boston tourists? Well, after reading this excellently researched work by Stephen Puleo, I can say that it did indeed happen and it was most certainly a tragedy, not the least because it didn't have to happen at all. Just as in another of his ...more
Carter West
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Boston's Great Molasses Flood of January 15, 1919 sticks [sic] in popular consciousness mostly as a risible curiosity, a freakish event best relegated to one of American history's sideshows. Stephen Puleo has rescued it from that sorry fate, lifted it up for study, and transformed it into a mirror of early 20th century American society. High-handed and shady dealings of industry; fervid dreams of anarchists; divisions of class and ethnicity; gaps in governmental regulation -- all these factors a ...more
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is an entertaining and immensely readible book.

Puleo does a great job in making the events and people involved in the 1919 Boston Molasses Flood come to life. He follows the construction of the molasses tank in 1915 through the end of the court case in 1925. The key point in the story is (obviously) the day the molasses tank broke, spilling 2.3 million gallons of molasses in one of Boston's busiest neighborhood killing 20 and injuring hundreds.

Puleo also tries to put the molasses tank in
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bostonians, Everyone
Shelves: nonfiction
If you aren't aware of the Molasses Flood of 1919, you are likely, as I was, to chuckle just thinking about the Boston waterfront coated in the sticky stuff. But Stephen Puleo's narrative of this event is terrifying, heartbreaking, dramatic, yet never seems sensationalist. He opens the door to reveal a history not just of an isolated terrible tragedy, but the ongoing struggle between corporate power, politics, and ethnic/class stratification. This book isn't just about the fifteen foot high wave ...more
Eva Nickelson
Jan 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book, even with its dark subject matter. Cut into three parts (construction, flood and aftermath, civil court case), the book truly tries to relate everything that was happening in that time surrounding the flood. While it can be repetitive at times, it recounts the history as stories and fragments taken from primary sources. It doesn't try to hoist emotions on the key characters, instead Puelo invokes what the reader would feel if placed in a certain situation.

I spent a go
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book was an eye-opening look at an event which profoundly changed America, that hardly anyone knows about. An above ground storage tank of molasses collapsed and killed people. Molasses was used to create munitions during the first world war, as well as rum. So huge quantities of it were necessary. There were simply no regulations on storage tanks, where they could be located, or how they needed to be built. This book creates Boston in the early decades of the twentieth century and tells ab ...more
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was so interesting, I found myself doing research on some of the historical details referenced (League of Nations, Sacco and Venzetti, prohibition). Puleo uses the story of Boston's molasass flood to paint a picture of life in Boston (and America) from WWI to prohibition. It was a formative time in this country's history, for industry, politics, morals, industries' relationship to their labor force and citizens' relationship to their government. Puleo touches on all of this in his tell ...more
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Stephen Puleo is an author, historian, university teacher, public speaker, and communications professional. His six narrative nonfiction works include:
• American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address (fall 2016)
The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War (2012)
• A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metro
More about Stephen Puleo...
“The event had been organized by the International Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the “Wobblies,” who had engaged in protests across America, sweeping eastward from the Rocky Mountain states,” 0 likes
“their goals was to organize workers into one giant union that would one day topple capitalism, a mission that suited anarchists just fine. The” 0 likes
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