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What a wonderful Book Discussion!

This month the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discussed a terrific and eye-opening book, Dark tide:  the great Boston molasses flood of 1919.  We were especially excited to discuss this book because, for the first time in the history of Falmouth Public Library’s book clubs, we had the author there to join our discussion!  We warmly welcomed noted Massachusetts author, historian, university teacher, public speaker and communications professional, Stephen Puleo!

Dark tide, as Puleo explained to our unusually large group that day (I counted 45 when we are usually in the single digits) has four themes running throughout: (1) the molasses flood itself, including significant events from the molasses tank construction in 1915 to the end of the trial in 1925, (2) the experiences of Irish and Italian immigrants living in the North End where the flood occurred, (3) the terrorist threats from the Anarchist movement that was also based in the North End, and (4) the influence this catastrophe had on future building codes and business liability. 

While keeping all four threads alive, Puleo also succeeds in keeping the reader enwrapped in the narrative, so we are worrying about the poor souls suffocating in the molasses and debris, wondering how the trial will resolve, and learning, despite ourselves, a lot of fascinating history of our country along the way.  We learned about Boston’s significant role in slavery, as well as about prohibition, munitions manufacturing for World War I, immigration and the red scare.  So much change was happening in the U.S. during this decade and the molasses flood was uniquely linked to it all.

Puleo had much to share about the research and writing of Dark tide, his first book.  He spoke at length about how he had the good fortune to be the first person in over eighty years to view the thousands of pages of court documents that provided scores of details about the victims and their experiences.  Having this primary resource which was given under oath, when people really took their judicial oath seriously, unlike now Puleo pointed out, meant that he had the freshest ingredients from which to mold a story that was entirely based on fact and contained not an ounce of conjecture.  When Puleo writes that the ten year old boy who was standing next to the tank when it collapsed was wearing two layers of red sweaters and brown boots to ward of the January cold, you can be sure that was true because it was recorded in the court testimony. 

Since the publication of Dark tide in 2003, Puleo has published a narrative nonfiction book almost every two years, including:  Due to enemy action:  The true World War II story of the USS Eagle 56 (2005), The Boston Italians:  A story of pride, perseverance and paesani, from the years of the great immigration to the present day (2007), A city so grand:  The rise of an American metropolis, Boston 1850 – 1900 (2010), and his newest release, The caning:  The assault that drove America to Civil War (2012).  All of these books are available through CLAMS, although you may need to be patient for the latest one as there is a wait list started already. 

I’d like to thank Sandra Gullicksen, who noticed that the book club was going to discuss Dark tide and offered to contact Stephen Puleo about visiting with us.  She invited him to her personal book club in the past and a wonderful time was had by all.  Actually, Stephen Puleo has spoken at Falmouth Public Library before.  We were his very first library talk when Dark tide came out!  He said he remembers it well and since he’s had a fabulous time here with astute audiences, he would love to come again.  So, keep your eyes open for a possible future visit about The caning!

During our next Narrative Nonfiction book club on Friday, January 4th at 10:00 AM, Ryan will lead the discussion about Jon Krakauer’s real adventure story, Into the wild.  This national best seller is short, but intense.  A blurb on the book cover reads:  “In April 1992 a young man from a well to do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley.  His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless.  He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself...” Pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk and join the discussion.

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