Battle of the Books – The Great Halifax Explosion

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline:

These books are explosive! I am so sorry, I’ll do better next time.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the great Halifax explosion during WWI. A munitions ship collides with another ship and caused a massive explosion. Then it caused a tsunami. Then there was a snowstorm.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

The explosion was so strong that people’s eyeballs exploded.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

This is one of those books where you realize an amazing event happened that no one seems to know about. The entire event is a treasure trove of history nerd goodness, including the paranoia of port cities during the days of U-boats, class warfare, tragedy, and the heroism of people in the aftermath.

Book vs. Book (Curse of the Narrows by Laura MacDonald Vs. The Great Halifax Explosion by John Bacon):

These two books are perfect contrasts of each other as they tell the same event over the same time period but take very different approaches. MacDonald uses her time and pages wisely by focusing on the overall psyche of Halifax and its surrounding areas and giving us glimpses into each person’s life who we will follow throughout the story (assuming they live). Bacon puts tremendous focus on Joseph Ernest Barss who plays a part in the narrative, but probably not as much as Bacon thinks.

Bacon follows Barss from his childhood, to the war, and then back again. It really slows down his narrative and definitely feels like a tangent. By contract, MacDonald seems to be able to dig deeper in the lives of her subjects with a lot less bloat. MacDonald also does a much superior job with the aftermath. The way she describes the impossible conditions faced by rescuers, nurses, and doctors even made me tired by the end. She made you feel their heroism.


Curse of the Narrows is a superior book in every single way. Well, Bacon’s name is awesome, because bacon, but everything else is done better by MacDonald from setting the scene, keeping the narrative going, and somehow making sure everyone gets the spotlight without droning on. It is a must read which even non-history nerds may like. Buy them below!

Curse of the Narrows by Laura MacDonald

The Great Halifax Explosion by John Bacon

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