Monday, March 5, 2012

The Great Molasses Flood - a review

Kops, Deborah. 2012. The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

As soon as I read Jeff Barger's review of The Great Molasses Flood on NC Teacher Stuff, I knew that this book would be next on my "to be read" pile.

Since then, it's cropped up on blogs all across the Kidlitosphere.  There's something about this horrific, yet freakishly bizarre story, that is simply irresistible.

I am fond of "event books" that offer a broader view of a particular occurrence, placing it into the context of the time.  This is such a book, offering a look at the American justice system, the anarchist movement of the early 20th century, the lifestyles of immigrants, the influence of big business, and the practical applications for science and engineering in the practice of law.  All of these elements cross paths in this chronological story of a deadly explosion of a Boston molasses tank holding over two million gallons of the sticky brown sweetener.

Because the incident ended up as the subject of intense litigation, Kops had ample resources, in addition to newspaper accounts.  The legal transcript of the trial fills forty volumes.

Kops' writing style is simple and compelling,

The View from Above
At about 12:40 the brakeman on the elevated line was standing near the window of a passenger train, which had left South Station about five minutes earlier.  As the train neared the molasses tank, the brakeman heard a loud noise, like metal ripping apart.  He looked down to see the molasses tank split wide open and a wave of molasses heading toward the tracks. 
     As the train came around a curve, there was another surprise.  The molasses hurled a great chunk of the tank against two columns supporting the elevated tracks.  A moment later one of the El supports bent as if it was just a skinny twig.  Park of the El's tracks, which the train had passed over just seconds before, sagged toward the road below.
Scattered sepia colored insets offer additional and helpful contextual information such as the burgeoning women's and anarchist movements, and an explanation of the urgency to use the stored molasses (prohibition was about to become the law of the land).

I did find fault with two stray comments that I thought "cringe-worthy" because they seemed dismissive of the catastrophic nature of the event.
A sea of molasses quickly surrounded them.  Antonio ran for his life, but he was no match for the tide.  It dragged him along, shoving him into a curb. Ouch! 
The young man lost two teeth and a sister.  Ouch?  The other is similarly cavalier -
Mrs. O'Brien Loses More Than Her Wash
Mrs. O'Brien, in fact, lost her home, which rode the molasses wave right off its foundation and into the nearby park.
These are minor aberrations, however, in an otherwise fascinating and well-told story.

Booktalk The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 to your fiction readers, too!  Freakish appeal and a generous amount of photos give this one cross-genre appeal.  Highly recommended. 

Finally, I think it's noteworthy that this is such a bizarre disaster, that it even warrants an entry on the always reliable,!
Claim: A fatal wave of molasses swept through Boston in January 1919.
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It's Nonfiction Monday.  Today's host is 100 Scope Notes.


  1. Bizarre but frightening! This does sound enticing.

    I reviewed a current "event" book called Meltdown at my blog today for Nonfiction Monday.

  2. I believe this is the third time that I've read a glowing review of this book. I should definitely check it out! :) Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Have to pair this with Harlow's Joshua's Song! I really want to read this!

  4. I'd never heard of Joshua's Song before you mentioned it. Thanks. It would make a good pairing.


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