The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

I’m going to add the summary from Goodreads because it sounds a lot better than mine: “On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution.”

So the whole book is the lead up and fallout of the explosion at this one naval base, similar to how Sheinkin’s Bomb discussed the atomic bomb project and Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat about the 1936 US Olympic crew team. All of these are in-depth narratives of historical events, but I think The Port Chicago 50 falls flat in the drama department. I love Sheinkin’s other books, but this one felt more like straight up facts and less of a narrative. And the narrative that was there was not really suspenseful and didn’t really make me as a reader close to any particular character(s) like his other books do. The closest I got was feeling empathy for Joe Small. I wasn’t as invested in this one.

It is interesting that even in the WWII era, African Americans were still segregated (no matter how much history tells me, it’s always surprising to see how little has changed since 1863) even though they were used in the military. They received lower ranks and more dangerous jobs of hard labor. They ate worse food and slept in worse barracks. And when they tried to change their circumstances their lives were threatened by the military. They were accused of mutiny when all they were doing was their job, and then fighting for their rights. Since this event was generally viewed as a blip in history, I guess it’s okay that it had less (and less intriguing) pictures and artifacts than the Bomb book. However, I would have liked to see the details included more narratively. I feel like they were just dropped in and didn’t move the plot along well. I also didn’t feel the tension as much as his other books. People mishandling giant bombs should be more suspenseful than that. The only reason I got through it was because I listened to the audio. The narrator is once again really good, but the text fell flat.

Read alikes: Candy bomber by Michael Tunnell, The Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman, The Girl From the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield, Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose, Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone