Hello, Loyal Readers!
On TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, at 7 p.m. at University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium, we will launch my next book THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism. The great Cynthia Canty, host of Michigan Radio’s Stateside program, will introduce me. Admission is free, and Literati Bookstore will have hundreds of books available for purchase, and I’ll sign them all, just like last time. More information on the book is below.
Hope to see you there! Tell 100 friends!
Listen to the commentary by clicking play.
After the Michigan Wolverines lost to Michigan State, they travelled to Happy Valley to take on Penn State, looking for a little redemption.
Or a lot. Penn State entered the game ranked second in the country, first in the Big Ten.
What a difference a year makes.
When Penn State visited Michigan last year, the Wolverines whooped ‘em, 49-10. The outcome left only two questions: Would undefeated Michigan run the table, and when would Penn State coach James Franklin get fired?
But that’s not how it played out. Over the next ten games, Michigan lost four – while Penn State lost only one. Their fortunes had flipped.
The Wolverines sought to flip them back last weekend against Penn State. But the Lions were having none of it, crushing Michigan, 42-13. Michigan’s vaunted defense, which some called the best in the nation, was torched for two touchdowns — in the first five minutes.
All this dropped Michigan out of the rankings, out of the race for a national title, and probably out of contention for a Big Ten title, too.
That left Michigan fans heartbroken, which is understandable. They have high expectations, going all the way back to 1898, when Louis Elbel penned the Victors’ lyrics, “Leaders and Best.”
The fans have every right to criticize the poor play, and the results. It’s a big boy business, after all, but a fringe invariably takes it too far.
I’ve always believed college football produces the most passionate fans of any sport in the world, which is one reason why I love it. And you will not find more passionate fans than Michigan’s.
But that passion often comes with impatience, which was on display after the loss. Some fans were apoplectic, tweeting about “accountability,” declaring the results “unacceptable,” and a few even calling for head coach Jim Harbaugh’s job.
What does all that mean?
Is anyone in America more accountable than a college football coach? These guys get fired faster than people who screw up the response to natural disasters. Every aspect of their performance gets scrutinized on radio, TV, and the internet – and no one, in pro or college, gets more than Jim Harbaugh.
This is the same coach who led stunning turn-arounds at the University of San Diego, Stanford, and the San Francisco 49ers. That’s why this native son was received as a savior when he took the Michigan job in December of 2014 – not even waiting to hear the much higher offers from NFL teams.
Yes, Harbaugh is paid extremely well, about seven million dollars a year – but the NFL would pay him more. In his first year, he promptly doubled Michigan’s victories from 5 to 10, and won 10 more his second.
Harbaugh’s quick success probably led many fans to believe the Wolverines would return to the promised land this season – despite having the youngest roster in the country, and now a back-up quarterback.
But if Harbaugh’s not good enough, who would be?
The good news for Michigan fans is Harbaugh’s not going anywhere. His players have been exemplary off the field – and the few who haven’t quickly parted ways. The team is setting records in the classroom, too, trailing only four other schools in the Academic Progress Rating.
Harbaugh is more immune to public opinion than any coach I’ve seen since his mentor, Bo Schembechler. Bo once told me, “I fundamentally don’t give a rat’s ass about the opinion of anyone outside our locker room.” I don’t think Harbaugh does either. When criticized by the fans, I’ve never seen him pass the buck, or bite back.
Harbaugh has had great success everywhere he’s coached. It’s very difficult to believe his alma mater will be the exception.
His team will get there – just not as fast as some fans would like.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION
The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.
-George F. Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning Syndicated Columnist
The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.
-David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Once in a Great City
Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James’ The Boys In The Boat, and John McPhee’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. What Bacon does so humanely, so expertly, and so compellingly is bring this story back from obscurity, into vivid life. Bacon sets the clock in motion, it’s literally ticking as we wait. That is the thrill of this book; to learn to care about these people under Bacon’s expert artistry, and to see this calamitous event rippling through life today. This a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range as a journalist and page-turning storyteller.
-Doug Stanton, New York Times Bestselling author of The Odyssey of Echo Company
When I first encountered the Halifax Explosion, I knew immediately it was a tick-tock of a story just waiting to become a book. John U. Bacon is clearly the perfect writer for the job, able to keep you awake reading hours after your spouse has turned out the lights. In this suspenseful tale of heartbreak and heroism, Bacon deftly recreates a world at war and sheds new light on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.
-Beth Macy, New York Times Bestselling author of Factory Man and Truevine
John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people. This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book. Highly recommended!
Douglas Brinkley, New York Times Bestselling author of Cronkite
FROM KIRKUS REVIEWS:
THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION
A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
Author: John U. Bacon
A history of the destruction of a Canadian city by an explosion as powerful as a nuclear weapon. In 1917, the thriving seaport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was leveled by a munitions explosion of unprecedented force when two ships collided in the city’s harbor. One carried 2,925 tons of high explosives; 494 steel drums of combustible airplane fuel; 250 tons of TNT, and 2,366 tons of the unstable, poisonous chemical picric acid, even more powerful than TNT. The ship was bound for France via Halifax as part of a convoy, the better to avoid German U-boats, until miscalculations ended in a devastating “awkward, dangerous dance.” Synthesizing locally published sources, a family archive, and World War I histories, Bacon (Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football, 2015, etc.) documents the terrifying incident in vivid detail: events leading up to the ships’ arrival; a capsule history of Halifax and a reprise of the start of World War I; the nail-biting collision; and its gruesome, horrific aftermath. Fires blazed, fueled not only by the explosives, but by overturned stoves and furnaces in homes; shock waves blasted out windows, spewing glass; railroad tracks were thrown up, factories crushed, wooden houses reduced to kindling. A tsunami, created by the air waves, quickly followed. Many who survived the conflagration were caught in the undertow and drowned. The explosion, Bacon writes, “destroyed 6,000 buildings, rendering 25,000 people—almost half the population of Halifax—homeless in one-ear-splitting whoosh” and killed 1,600 instantly. Corpses, many dismembered or burned beyond recognition, were scattered everywhere. Survivors at first assumed that the city had been attacked by Germans; years later, trials revealed the culpability of the ships’ captains. When word spread—by telegram—to other Canadian cities and to Nova Scotia’s American neighbors, help was immediate and generous. Boston, especially well-prepared because of the war, sent doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and many millions of dollars in aid. Since 1976, Boston’s annual Christmas tree has been a gift of thanks from Halifax. An absorbing history of disaster and survival.