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Askew Review 15

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(Beacon Press) by Stephen Puleo. 2003. Nonfiction/history.  At noon on January 15, 1919 the residents along Boston ’s waterfront heard a sudden and deafening crash. Within moments, people were running for their lives from a 25 foot tidal wave of molasses. A 50 foot, 2.3 million gallon molasses tank had crashed to the earth resulting in death, destruction, and lawsuits. Using eyewitness accounts, court records, and other testimonies, Dark Tide collects almost a decade of history from the tank’s construction to the results of the lawsuits brought against the tank’s owners, U.S. Industry Alcohol (USIA). Along with the history of the molasses tank and accident, Stephen Puleo relates US history in the context of the accident and how it shaped the tank’s rapid construction and lawsuit defense.  
What makes Dark Tide absolutely fascinating is that you could take the same events that happened back then, transplant them into today’s society, and we’d basically see same results and reactions. The rush job and cheap construction of the tank smells of the same situation concerning Boston’s Big Dig, although the Big Dig’s cutting was done to rip-off money and the tank’s cutting was to save money. One of USIA’s defense of the collapse was placing blame on Italian Anarchists, who had a history of this sort of terrorism. Sound familiar? Then, of course, there are the long drawn out lawsuits. Boy, some things never change. Puleo does a tremendous job wrapping social and political issues around the ill fated tank’s construction and fall. Those involved in the molasses flood, namely the victims, are so beautifully discussed; you’ll certainly feel bad for those who where injured or died. I was drawn to this book due to my Grandfather telling me about this tragedy many, many years ago. Although Gramps was only three when the tank fell, he swore to me that as a child and adult, he could still smell the molasses on hot days when visiting the impacted area. My Grandmother on the other hand, says he’s full of shyt. Dark Tide also includes some photographs that help drive the devastation home. If you buy this book, be sure to pick up the edition that includes a new afterward; a hand written letter by an eyewitness to the flood.  Dark Tide is an amazing book meticulously detailing a previously uncharted, and tragic, historical event. – Denis Sheehan



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