Monday, January 14, 2019
Book Review: 'Cork Wars' by David A. Taylor
‘Nine acres of baled cork roared into flames yesterday afternoon.’1940, Baltimore Sun
Washington DC author David A. Taylor has written and co-produced award-winning documentary films, histories, fiction collections and non-fiction articles that have appeared in Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Oxford American and elsewhere. His books are lauded and awarded. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University.
David introduces his impressive volume CORK WARS stating ‘This book is narrative nonfiction, combining the fact-finding of journalism with literary techniques to create a dramatic story that is also true. All the characters are real people.’ And then he opens the window to a part of history too few understand.
The outline of the book’s story summarizes it very well: ‘In 1940, with German U-boats blockading all commerce across the Atlantic Ocean, a fireball at the Crown Cork and Seal factory lit the sky over Baltimore. The newspapers said that you could see its glow as far north as Philadelphia and as far south as Annapolis. Rumors of Nazi sabotage led to an FBI investigation and pulled an entire industry into the machinery of national security as America stood on the brink of war. The events are related through three families. At the heart of this tale is self-made mogul Charles McManus, son of Irish immigrants, who grew up on Baltimore’s rough streets. McManus ran Crown Cork and Seal, a company that manufactured everything from bottle caps to oil-tight gaskets for fighter planes. Frank DiCara, as a young teenager growing up in Highlandtown, watched from his bedroom window as the fire blazed at the factory. Just a few years later, under pressure to support his family after the death of his father, DiCara quit school and got a job at Crown. Meanwhile, Melchor Marsa, Catalan by birth, managed Crown Cork and Seal’s plants in Spain and Portugal and was perfectly placed to be recruited as a spy. McManus, DiCara, and Marsa were connected by the unique properties of a seemingly innocuous substance. Cork, unrivaled as a sealant and insulator, was used in gaskets, bomber insulation, and ammunition, making it crucial to the war effort. From secret missions in North Africa to 4-H clubs growing seedlings in America to secret intelligence agents working undercover in the industry, this book examines cork’s surprising wartime significance.’
David has very successfully placed facts before us in a manner that reads like a thriller. The significance of this reenactment of history is particularly timely as we step lightly though portents of possible similar corruption and conspiracy Brilliant writing!
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.