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Old 08-16-2018, 01:57 PM   #16
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Oh, I'd agree Hersey's Hiroshima was superior in every way. And I almost nominated it again, but decided to go with something away from the main theatres of the war. And I'm glad I did, even though some of you really didn't like it. And I get that, but maybe we're looking for something a bit different in a history read.

I'll be brutally honest -- I'm never going to read or want to read a thoroughly scholorly tome on war or history. I'm past the age where I find that interesting, and I no longer have to read them for an assignment or school. I enjoy reading history when it makes the history personal and interesting. I find I learn and retain far more from that sort of treatment than I do from something I might have read for a college course. Does that make me shallow? Perhaps, but if so, I accept it and embrace it. At least I try to learn from the mistakes of history. (I'd point out some current examples, but that would take us into P&R territory!)

And OK, I agree completely about Barss. I never quite understood the focus on him, he was the least interesting of the characters chronicled in many ways. But this was not a story about Barss, nor was the book primarily about him no matter how often he intruded. To me, this was a book about how the people of Halifax died and survived the greatest non-nuclear human-caused disaster in history, and how they worked to recover from it. And it was also very much a book about the events that led to that disaster. And while I can certainly see the limitations of the book, ultimately I found it compelling and interesting.
I didn't need a tome, really. I have read and enjoyed popular history before. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson was great. I am not sure how I would have felt about this topic in the hands of another historian or if it had not come on the heels of The Radium Girls.

I think the subject matter was very interesting, and, again, it did make for a very interesting conversation with my Better Half about just what I did want to get out of reading history. I don't regret reading it for just that reason.

(I am also fully braced for people to not like my lucky winner for September)
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Old 08-16-2018, 02:08 PM   #17
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Oh, I don't take it personally. For one thing, I hadn't read it before I nominated it. (Something that is contrary to what I usually recommend and do, I admit.) For another, I've been in this club from the beginning, and I've noticed that book opinions and preferences vary WIDELY across the members. People approach each book from a different place, and while I might agree with someone's assessment on book A, we can equally disagree completely on book B. That's what makes for a discussion, after all.

One of the things I found interesting is that the engineers and scientists developing the atomic bomb used the Halifax explosion as a model to help them understand exactly how a truly massive and virtually instantaneous explosion behaves and affects the area where it happens. Now I'm not at all sure that's a recommendation, but it's certainly a comment on just how unprecedentedly powerful this explosion was.
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Old 08-16-2018, 04:17 PM   #18
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You know, my review was on the short side... this read was not nearly as difficult as TTM, but I still had some difficulties with it, and to tell the truth, I really could n't put my finger on why.

Yes, the lack of embedded footnotes was part of it, which I mentioned, and I did spend a lot of the book wondering why such emphasis was placed on mister Barss.

After reading your responses, I understand that I should have done as I did with TTM and continued a running dialogue as I read, which is not always practical, nor even possible sometimes.

At any rate, I did look for Shattered City by Janet Kitz, now that I am aware of it. It is not available in e-form at my library, and considering it costs $55 at Amazon in hardcover, I can see why. Though I do see Kobo has it or under $10...
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Old 08-16-2018, 05:48 PM   #19
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I'm still reading, but I made the mistake of following the comments here. One thing that puzzles me about the reactions: Where are the "fabrications" and "howlers," and how is it possible to spot them without having read other books about the event? What am I missing?

I remain interested in the book--my not being finished isn't due to a reluctance to keep reading, but to outside events--but the comments here made me wonder if my critical faculties aren't working as they should. So I looked up a number of editorial reviews, none of which seemed to have any major problems with with book. Some of those reviews paired the Bacon book with another centennial-timed release, The Halifax Explosion: Canada's Worst Disaster by Ken Cuthbertson, and give the latter book a slight edge, but I didn't find any negative reviews for Bacon's book.
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Old 08-16-2018, 06:00 PM   #20
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Always the risk of following the discussion before you finish reading. Though I perfectly understand the temptation!

Obviously, I don't think the book is nearly as bad as some here do. I have some reservations, but even on sober reflection, it's a personal 4 stars, because on balance, I'm actively glad I read it. My rating system:
1 Star -- Gag a maggot, get this out of my sight and off my Calibre! Horrible
2 Star -- I actively wish I hadn't read it, or had abandoned it earlier
3 Star -- OK. I enjoyed it, don't resent reading it, but not inspired to read more or again
4 Star -- Good. Actively glad I read it. Will probably read more if a series.
5 Star -- Love it. Will read more in series, will likely want to re-read this one at some point.
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Old 08-16-2018, 06:45 PM   #21
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Always the risk of following the discussion before you finish reading. Though I perfectly understand the temptation!

Obviously, I don't think the book is nearly as bad as some here do. I have some reservations, but even on sober reflection, it's a personal 4 stars, because on balance, I'm actively glad I read it. My rating system:
1 Star -- Gag a maggot, get this out of my sight and off my Calibre! Horrible
2 Star -- I actively wish I hadn't read it, or had abandoned it earlier
3 Star -- OK. I enjoyed it, don't resent reading it, but not inspired to read more or again
4 Star -- Good. Actively glad I read it. Will probably read more if a series.
5 Star -- Love it. Will read more in series, will likely want to re-read this one at some point.
I would have tried harder to avoid the discussion for a work of fiction, but for nonfiction, it matters less. It's not like there's going to be some twist or surprise at the end.
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Old 08-16-2018, 08:26 PM   #22
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Oh, I'd agree Hersey's Hiroshima was superior in every way. And I almost nominated it again, but decided to go with something away from the main theatres of the war. And I'm glad I did, even though some of you really didn't like it. And I get that, but maybe we're looking for something a bit different in a history read.
I'm looking for something accurate and well-written. It's a straw dog to say that the issues arose from looking for something not directly about warfare.

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I'll be brutally honest -- I'm never going to read or want to read a thoroughly scholorly tome on war or history. I'm past the age where I find that interesting, and I no longer have to read them for an assignment or school. I enjoy reading history when it makes the history personal and interesting. I find I learn and retain far more from that sort of treatment than I do from something I might have read for a college course.
There's no reason at all that popular history can't be accurate and well-written, and Halifax fails on both counts. It's not that some of us are snooty; it's that Halifax is lousy, frankly. Poorly written, inaccurate and verging very, very close to outright plagiarism (and I'd quibble with the "close", but I'm not a copyright lawyer). You demean popular history and its readers by seeming to claim that accuracy doesn't matter, so long as the message sells.
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Old 08-16-2018, 08:34 PM   #23
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I'm still reading, but I made the mistake of following the comments here. One thing that puzzles me about the reactions: Where are the "fabrications" and "howlers," and how is it possible to spot them without having read other books about the event? What am I missing?
I'll give you an example.

Early on, Bacon talked about how the Great War caused the industrialization of Halifax and cited (his only citation) the Willis and Bates company, which he said manufactured doughboy-style helmets because it had previously made metal lampshades with a similar shape.

This stopped me in my tracks, as it made no sense. Metal lampshades? Lampshades are designed to let light through! Moreover, I'm familiar with the shape of the doughboy helmets and they look like no lampshade I've ever seen. So I googled Willis and Bates.

Guess what? The company, which did manufacture lanterns in both world wars, was located in Halifax, England, not Halifax, Canada. This is where I would have stopped reading, had it not been for the NLBC.

For all we've criticized him for the stuff he lifted from other authors, it's at least more accurate than the stuff he came up with on his own.
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Old 08-16-2018, 08:43 PM   #24
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For the undue emphasis on Joseph Barss and his family, just take a look at the name Barss in the index of the book, compared with, say, the number of entries under Inquiry. The book shouldn't be about Barss, but Bacon manages to drag him in at the drop of the proverbial hat, and spends whole chapters on him. I'm sure Joseph Barss was a decent man and did a lot of good work as a doctor, but his life and times are not supposed to be the subject of this book.

Just two examples of Bacon's crass approach to the whole thing:

1. In his lead-up to the terrible event itself, describing one of the families that was to be affected, he wrote "With fourteen kids, the milking cow in the backyard wasn't for show-and-tell". I don't know whether he thought he was being funny in saying this, but it jars badly.

2. In one of his later chapters devoted to the exploits of Joseph Barss, we are told: "He also sang in the First Congregational Church under the leadership of Lloyd C Douglas, who would go on to write The Robe, which sold 2 million copies and became a movie starring Richard Burton.

When reading about the Halifax explosion, I really needed to know that fascinating piece of information!
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Old 08-16-2018, 09:15 PM   #25
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When reading about the Halifax explosion, I really needed to know that fascinating piece of information!
Here's one I "liked:"

"...one day the Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VIII before abdicating the throne to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson..."

Honestly, someone who doesn't know that about the Duke of Windsor (is there anyone?) isn't interested and has no need to know in this context.
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Old 08-16-2018, 09:24 PM   #26
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Ah yes, that one is nearly as good as the Lloyd C Douglas connection!
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Old 08-16-2018, 10:14 PM   #27
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I'll give you an example.

Early on, Bacon talked about how the Great War caused the industrialization of Halifax and cited (his only citation) the Willis and Bates company, which he said manufactured doughboy-style helmets because it had previously made metal lampshades with a similar shape.

This stopped me in my tracks, as it made no sense. Metal lampshades? Lampshades are designed to let light through! Moreover, I'm familiar with the shape of the doughboy helmets and they look like no lampshade I've ever seen. So I googled Willis and Bates.

Guess what? The company, which did manufacture lanterns in both world wars, was located in Halifax, England, not Halifax, Canada. This is where I would have stopped reading, had it not been for the NLBC.

For all we've criticized him for the stuff he lifted from other authors, it's at least more accurate than the stuff he came up with on his own.
OK, that's a bad error, but understandable. The company did make lamps, though, so the thing that triggered your research wasn't an error.

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Just two examples of Bacon's crass approach to the whole thing:

1. In his lead-up to the terrible event itself, describing one of the families that was to be affected, he wrote "With fourteen kids, the milking cow in the backyard wasn't for show-and-tell". I don't know whether he thought he was being funny in saying this, but it jars badly.
Didn't jar me at all. I don't see the problem.

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2. In one of his later chapters devoted to the exploits of Joseph Barss, we are told: "He also sang in the First Congregational Church under the leadership of Lloyd C Douglas, who would go on to write The Robe, which sold 2 million copies and became a movie starring Richard Burton.

When reading about the Halifax explosion, I really needed to know that fascinating piece of information!
That is the sort of thing I LOVE: quirky little connections. Now, if he went on to summarize The Robe, or list the rest of the cast, or say that Burton was married to Elizabeth Taylor, that would have been too much of a digression. But as is? Fine.

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Here's one I "liked:"

"...one day the Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VIII before abdicating the throne to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson..."

Honestly, someone who doesn't know that about the Duke of Windsor (is there anyone?) isn't interested and has no need to know in this context.
What's wrong with giving context so the readers know WHICH Prince of Wales was holding that title at the time?
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Old 08-16-2018, 10:35 PM   #28
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For a book that purports to be history, such an error as the Halifax England versus Halifax Canada is unforgivable.

For a book about a terrible tragedy with huge loss of life and terrible injuries, flippant remarks such as the one about the cow are at the very least inappropriate.

I can't see The Robe, either book or film, as having any connection whatsoever with Halifax and the explosion.

As for which Prince of Wales it was, the date would be quite a good clue. If someone reading didn't know and wanted to, they could always look it up.

This sort of thing might be okay in a novel, though I would be distinctly put off by such examples. It is not okay in a book claiming to be history, popular or otherwise. There are plenty of good popular histories and I have enjoyed several, as I have an interest in history. This is not one of them.
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Old 08-16-2018, 10:36 PM   #29
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OK, that's a bad error, but understandable. The company did make lamps, though, so the thing that triggered your research wasn't an error.
I have to differ, vociferously, about this. You can't use a company in England as your single example of increased industrialization in Nova Scotia. It's slipshod. It's lazy. It's wrong.

And the rest was absurd. The lanterns bore no resemblance to helmets. And lanterns aren't lampshades.
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Old 08-16-2018, 10:48 PM   #30
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For a book about a terrible tragedy with huge loss of life and terrible injuries, flippant remarks such as the one about the cow are at the very least inappropriate.

I can't see The Robe, either book or film, as having any connection whatsoever with Halifax and the explosion.

As for which Prince of Wales it was, the date would be quite a good clue. If someone reading didn't know and wanted to, they could always look it up.

This sort of thing might be okay in a novel, though I would be distinctly put off by such examples. It is not okay in a book claiming to be history, popular or otherwise. There are plenty of good popular histories and I have enjoyed several, as I have an interest in history. This is not one of them.
I don't find the cow remark flippant. It just seems to be a way of telling us the family owned a cow.

Citing The Robe identifies Douglas. What's wrong with that?

I'm glad you know when the various princes of Wales held the title, but I'm a dumb American and I don't. So I appreciate the context.
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