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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Hardcover – March 10, 2015
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“Both terrifying and enthralling.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Thrilling, dramatic and powerful.”—NPR
“Thoroughly engrossing.”—George R.R. Martin
On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.
Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.
Finalist for the Washington State Book Award • One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Miami Herald, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, LibraryReads, Indigo
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month for March 2015: On May 1st, 1915 the Lusitania set sail on its final voyage. That it was sunk by a German U-boat will be news to few—and Larson’s challenge is to craft a historical narrative leading up to the thrilling, if known, conclusion, building anticipation in his readers along the way. To his credit, he makes the task look easy. Focusing on the politics of WWI, on nautical craftsmanship and strategy, and on key players in the eventual attack and sinking of the “fast, comfortable, and beloved” Lusitania, Larson once again illustrates his gift for seducing us with history and giving it a human face. Dead Wake puts readers right aboard the famous Cunard liner and keeps them turning the pages until the book’s final, breathless encounter. – Chris Schluep
"Larson is one of the modern masters of popular narrative nonfiction...a resourceful reporter and a subtle stylist who understands the tricky art of Edward Scissorhands-ing narrative strands into a pleasing story...An entertaining book about a great subject, and it will do much to make this seismic event resonate for new generations of readers."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Larson is an old hand at treating nonfiction like high drama...He knows how to pick details that have maximum soapy potential and then churn them down until they foam [and] has an eye for haunting, unexploited detail."
—The New York Times
"In his gripping new examination of the last days of what was then the fastest cruise ship in the world, Larson brings the past stingingly alive...He draws upon telegrams, war logs, love letters, and survivor depositions to provide the intriguing details, things I didn't know I wanted to know...Thrilling, dramatic and powerful."
"Larson is a journalist who writes non-fiction books that read like novels, real page-turners. This one is no exception. I had known a lot about the Titanic but little about the Lusitania. This filled in those gaps... this one is pretty damned good. Thoroughly engrossing."
—George R.R. Martin
"This enthralling and richly detailed account demonstrates that there was far more going on beneath the surface than is generally known...Larson's account [of the Lusitania's sinking] is the most lucid and suspenseful yet written, and he finds genuine emotional power in the unlucky confluences of forces, 'large and achingly small,' that set the stage for the ship's agonizing final moments."
—The Washington Post
"Utterly engrossing...Expertly ratcheting up the tension...Larson puts us on board with these people; it's page-turning history, breathing with life."
—The Seattle Times
"Larson has a gift for transforming historical re-creations into popular recreations, and Dead Wake is no exception...[He] provides first-rate suspense, a remarkable achievement given that we already know how this is going to turn out...The tension, in the reader's easy chair, is unbearable..."
—The Boston Globe
"Both terrifying and enthralling. As the two vessels stumble upon each other, the story almost takes on the narrative pulse of Jaws—the sinking was impossible and inevitable at the same time. At no point do you root for the shark, but Larson's incredible detail pulls you under and never lets you go."
"Erik Larson [has] made a career out of turning history into best sellers that read as urgently as thrillers...A meticulous master of non-fiction suspense."
"[Larson] vividly captures the disaster and the ship's microcosm, in which the second class seems more appealing than the first."
—The New Yorker
"[Larson is] a superb storyteller and a relentless research hound..."
—Lev Grossman, TIME
“[Larson] proves his mettle again as a weaver of tales of naïveté, calumny and intrigue. He engagingly sketches life aboard the liner and amply describes the powers’ political situations… The panorama Mr. Larson surveys is impressive, as is the breadth of his research and the length of his bibliography. He can’t miss engaging readers with the curious cast of characters, this ship of fools, and his accounting of the sinking itself and the survivors’ ordeals are the stuff of nightmares.”
"Readers looking for a swift, emotionally engaging account of one of history's great sea disasters will find Dead Wake grimly exhilarating. Larson is an exceptionally skilled storyteller, and his tick-tock narrative, which cuts between the Lusitania, U-20 and the political powers behind them, is pitch-perfect."
—The Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Larson so brilliantly elucidates [the Lusitania's fate] in Dead Wake, his detailed forensic and utterly engrossing account of the Lusitania's last voyage...Yes, we know how the story of the Lusitania ends, but there's still plenty of white-knuckle tension. In Dead Wake, he delivers such a marvelously thorough investigation of the ship's last week that it practically begs Hollywood blockbuster treatment."
—The Toronto Globe & Mail
"Larson's nimble, exquisitely researched tale puts you dead center...Larson deftly pulls off the near-magical feat of taking a foregone conclusion and conjuring a tale that's suspenseful, moving and altogether riveting."
—Dallas Morning News
"With each revelation from Britain and America, with each tense, claustrophobic scene aboard U-20, the German sub that torpedoed the ship, with each vignette from the Lusitania, Larson's well-paced narrative ratchets the suspense. His eye for the ironic detail keen, his sense of this time period perceptive, Larson spins a sweeping tale that gives the Lusitania its due attention. His book may well send Leonardo DiCaprio chasing its film rights."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"An expertly crafted tale of individual and corporate hubris, governmental intrigue and cover-up, highlighting a stunning series of conincidences and miscalculations that ultimately placed the Lusitania in the direct path of the catastrophic strike...[Larson's] pacing is impeccable."
—The Miami Herald
"[Larson] has a gift for finding the small, personal details that bring history to life...His depiction of the sinking of the ship, and the horrific 18 minutes between the time it was hit and the time it disappeared, is masterly, moving between strange, touching details."
"In the hands of a lesser craftsman, the fascinating story of the last crossing of the Lusitania might risk being bogged down by dull character portraits, painstaking technical analyses of submarine tactics or the minutiae of WWI-era global politics. Not so with Erik Larson...Larson wrestles these disparate narratives into a unified, coherent story and so creates a riveting account of the Lusitania's ending and the beginnings of the U.S.'s involvement in the war."
—Pittsburgh Post Gazette
"In your mind, the sinking of the luxury liner Lusitania may be filed in a cubbyhole...After reading Erik Larson's impressive reconstruction of the Lusitania's demise, you're going to need a much bigger cubbyhole...Larson's book is a work of carefully sourced nonfiction, not a novelization, but it has a narrative sweep and miniseries pacing that make it highly entertaining as well as informative."
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Larson breathes life into narrative history like few writers working today."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Now the tragic footnote to a global conflagration, the history of the [Lusitania's] final voyage... is worthy of the pathos and narrative artistry Erik Larson brings to Dead Wake...Reader's of Larson's previous nonfiction page turners...will not be disappointed. He's an excellent scene setter and diligent researcher who tells the story with finesse and suspense."
"The story of the Lusitania's sinking by a German U-boat has been told before, but Larson's version features new details and the gripping immediacy he's famous for."
"We can't wait for the James Cameron version of Erik Larson's Dead Wake."
—New York Magazine
"Larson...long ago mastered the art of finding overlooked and faded curiosities and converting them into page-turning popular histories. Here, again, he manages the same trick."
—Christian Science Monitor
"Fans of Erik Larson's narrative nonfiction have trusted that whatever tale he chooses to tell, they'll find it compelling. Dead Wake proves them right...History at its harrowing best."
—New York Daily News
"A quickly paced, imminently readable exploration of an old story you may only half-know."
—Arkansas Democratic Gazette
"We all know how the story ends, but Larson still makes you want to turn the pages, and turn them quickly. What makes the story, is that Larson takes a few main characters--the Lusitania's Captain William Thomas Turner, President Woodrow Wilson, U-boat Captain Walther Schweiger, Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat, architect Theodate Pope, and a few minor ones--and weaves them together towards the inevitable and tragic conclusion. Larson has done his research. The number of details and anecdotes that he has managed to cobble together are fascinating in themselves."
"Larson turns this familiar tale into a finely written elegy on the contingency of war."
“Larson is a master storyteller and quickens the pace as target and attackers hurtle toward their inevitable, deadly rendezvous. The suspense builds because readers care about his fully-formed characters, and it’s not always clear who will live and who will die.”
"Because Larson has such a sense of story, when he gets to the tragedy itself, the book hums along in vivid form. You feel, viscerally, what it's like to be on a sinking ship, and the weight of life lost that day. The fact that this is coming through a page-turner history book, where all the figures and details reveal an impeccable eye and thorough research, is just one of the odd pleasures of Larson's writing."
“[Larson] thrillingly chronicles the liner’s last voyage... He draws upon a wealth of sources for his subject – telegrams, wireless messages, survivor depositions, secret intelligence ledgers, a submarine captain’s war log, love letters, admiralty and university archives, even morgue photos of Lusitania victims… Filled with revealing political, military and social information, Larson’s engrossing Dead Wake is, at its heart, a benediction for the 1,198 souls lost at sea.”
—Tampa Bay Times
"Larson, an authority on nonfiction accounts, expounds on our primary education, putting faces to the disaster and crafting an intimate portrait in Dead Wake. A lover of history will get so close to the story...that it is hard not to feel as if you are on board with new friends..."
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"In a well-paced narrative, Larson reveals the forces large and small, natural and man-made, coincidental and intentional, that propelled the Lusitania to its fatal rendezvous...Larson's description of the moments and hours that followed the torpedo's explosive impact is riveting...Dead Wake stands on its own as a gripping recounting of an episode that still has the power to haunt a reader 100 years later."
"Larson, who was once described as "an historian with a novelist's soul," has written a book which combines the absorbing tenor of fiction with the realities of history."
—The Toronto Sun
"[Larson] shows that narrative history can let us have it both ways: great drama wedded to rigorous knowledge. The German torpedoing of the great ship 100 years ago was almost as deadly as the Titanic sinking, and far more world-changing. Larson makes it feel as immediate and contingent as the present day."
—NY Mag's Vulture.com
"The bestselling author of The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck puts his mastery of penning parallel narratives on display as he tells the tale of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine, building an ever-growing sense of dread as the two vessels draw closer to their lethal meeting...He goes well beyond what's taught in history classes to offer insights into British intelligence and the dealings that kept the ship from having the military escort so many passengers expected to protect it...By piecing together how politics, economics, technology, and even the weather combined to produce an event that seemed both unlikely and inevitable, he offers a fresh look at a world-shaking disaster."
—The Onion A/V Club
"An intriguing, entirely engrossing investigation into a legendary disaster."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Factual and personal to a high degree, the narrative reads like a grade-A thriller."
—Booklist, starred review
"[Larson] has always shown a brilliant ability to unearth the telling details of a story and has the narrative chops to bring a historical moment vividly alive. But in his new book, Larson simply outdoes himself...What is most compelling about Dead Wake is that, through astonishing research, Larson gives us a strong sense of the individuals—passengers and crew—aboard the Lusitania, heightening our sense of anxiety as we realize that some of the people we have come to know will go down with the ship. A story full of ironies and 'what-ifs,' Dead Wake is a tour de force of narrative history."
—BookPage, Top Pick
"With a narrative as smooth as the titular passenger liner, Larson delivers a riveting account of one of the most tragic events of WWI...A blunt reminder that war is, at its most basic, a matter of life and death."
"Once again, Larson transforms a complex event into a thrilling human interest story. This suspenseful account will entice readers of military and maritime history along with lovers of popular history."
"Critically acclaimed 'master of narrative nonfiction' Erik Larson has produced a thrilling account of the principals and the times surrounding this tumultuous event in world history...After an intimate look at the passengers, and soon-to-be victims, who board in New York despite the warning of 'unrestricted warfare' from the German embassy, Larson turns up the pace with shorter and shorter chapters alternating between the hunted and the hunter until the actual shot. All in all a significant story. Well told."
"...the tension mounts page by page and the reading of Dead Wake becomes a very cinematic experience."
- Publisher : Crown Publishers; NO-VALUE edition (March 10, 2015)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 430 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307408868
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307408860
- Lexile measure : 1190L
- Item Weight : 1.49 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #76,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on June 10, 2015
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The book Dead wake is a historically based novel- like non-fiction that relates to the sink of Lusitania, one of the major reasons why did America get involved in the world one. Unlike the textbook or the objective documents that represent the official recording of this event. This book gradually brings the whole events out from all the small perspectives of people who got involved or lost their lives in it. The author’s big motivation for writing this book is to let people experience the whole events from the basic stories. Normally the information we received from those world war 1 documents is simple and unemotional. Without the name of dead people, there are not strong feelings through reading the death numbers. Without the background information, there is no explanation to why the boat was sunk by torpedoes. The author of this book drew the world of readers back to the last century, the happiness, desires, hopelessness from people are all seems close enough to touch. Even though the book itself focused mostly on the Boat and the submarine U-20 which sunk it, the characterization of other passengers on Lusitania is attractive and interesting. The movement of different organization and famous people such as American president Wilson were all caught by Erik Larson.
More than a normal non-fiction, Dead Wake shows its strength on imitating the humanity and atmospheres. The whole book is having a comparably easy and comfortable rhythm at the first chapter. Rather than just talking about the big historical event itself, Erik Larson fills in more small details and personal life parts into the skeleton of the book, to make it more vivid. On the other hand, the people on lusitania are not all the characters he focuses on. For example, the one who received the order to sank the boat with torpedoes, Captain Schwieger of the submarine U-20 is actually a pretty hard-working and nice captain in his normal life. ‘Yet among his peers and crew Schwieger was known for this kindness and good humor and for maintaining a cheerful atmosphere aboard his submarine.’ However, the war is cruel and cold-bloody, the perspective of enemies helped me understand the conception of the war better. Overall, this book is pretty nice book that can bring the readers into the experiences of the events happened in the past. Also, for one who is learning the First World War, this book gave me more new knowledge and brought me a historical event that I did not even hear before. The relationship between this book and the First world war build me a bridge on the way of studying this part of the history.
Relationship to the world war 1
Before America participated in the first world war, German started to attack any boats that had the British relationships near the British sea areas. They posted the news on the newspaper and this truly caused a lot of people to change their ideas. However, the passengers on lusitania didn’t see the risk they taking, because the boat they are taking was having the greatest speed in the whole world thanks to its newest technology. All the people believed that there weren’t any submarines able to catch the boat due to its unbelievable speed at that time. Unfortunately, the extrema of fog happened on the open sea of the Ireland. This accidentally triggered the following tragedy. The meeting of U-20 submarine and lusitania was not predicted by room 40, an organization which mainly focused the interception of telegrams from German in that period this time. This time, the speed of lusitania did not function as much as they thought. The boat is stucked in the fog, without the eyesight for speeding up. The U-20 caught the boat and gave the first torpedo under the order of captain Schwieger. The boat was hugely impacted and shook. People were running around and spreading out the scare. Then, not until most of them reached the bridge of the boat, the second the torpedo was launched without any hesitation. This one ensure the sink of the boat and caused nine tenth of the passengers on the boat fell into the deep water with the boat. Among the 1200 passengers who died in this event, there were nearly a hundred Americans. Only 300 corpse of were found after the boat was sunk by the U-20. This, undoubtedly, stimulate the anger of Americans. All the citizens want to give Germany punishment for their evil behaves. By the fact of other events, America was involved into this war finally.
The reflections after reading the books
Although I am reading a book of historical event, the feeling I received from the book is not limited on just a historical event. It is something deeper and was truly impacting my emotions. After reading the 300 pages in the book, most passengers became true people who used to live somewhere in the world vividly. I would love to talk with them if I was there. However, 1200 lives were end only because of two torpedoes. One of the greatest boat at that time was sunk. The declaration of Germany proved that they need an enemy who could teach them an unforgettable lesson. And that was what America did. I was usually imagining that what kind of fear was spreading at the last moment before the boat sunk. The mixture of 1200 people’s emotion before their death must be filled by darkness and blood. Many people on the boat was trying to look for someone they knew on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The captain of the boat was not concerning of the disaster at all. No one could predict the existence of both fog and German submarine until they met. ‘Turner had no concern about the German warning. Shortly before departure, he was standing on the ship’s promenade deck, talking with Alfred Vanderbilt and Charles Frohman, when one of the ship-news man --- apparently not Jack Lawrence --- approached and asked Vanderbilt if he thought he’d be as lucky this time as he had been in deciding not to sail on the Titanic. Vanderbilt smiled but said nothing.’ The people on the whole boat could not noticed the event. How many people died without noticing their situation? This is my biggest question after reading the book.
Lusitania was definitely a boat that can let the people inside feel the atmosphere of happiness. ‘“Ships do have personalities,” wrote Jack Lawrence, the shipping writer for he New York Evening Mail. Some ships “have warm, friendly atmosphere while others are only steel plates riveted around throbbing turbines.”’ There were some children and infants on the boat and only one tenth of them finally survived. ‘The passenger manifest listed ninety-five children and thirty-nine infants’ It told me that no one can be ignored by the war when the enemy catches you. The fearness of war is remained in my mind by this book after seeing the innocent death under the big environment of the war. Thanks to this book, I learnt the fearness of the war.
The reasons for people to read this book
In conclusion, this book is definitely recommended for readers, even for those who are not interested in the world war one. From my perspective, the book focused more on people instead of events. The details in a person’s life usually appear for characterizing the personality of this person. The intention of For example, ‘Lauriat took the scrapbooks back to his home in Cambridge, where he inspected them in the company of his wife, Marian. He then packed them carefully, in his extension suitcase, and locked it. At the station later that night, he checked his trunk and shoe box for transport direct to the lusitania but held back his other three pieces. He kept these with him in the calendar.’ the characteristics of one of the passengers on the boat, Lauriat, a bookseller who usually went to Britain for transporting books, is fully shown for the readers. The introduction of boats or submarines are also comprehensive and informational for those people who want to learn more about the world war One. ‘U-boats in fact traveled underwater as little as possible, typically only in extreme weather or when attacking ships or dodging destroyers.’ The professional explanation like this line appeared commonly in the book. In short, the book is fascinating and interesting, feeling the past historical events from it is the attraction no readers can reject.
The Lusitania was known was one of the fastest and most elegant ships of her time. As World War One began, the speed of the Lusitania made her ideal for crossings. This was especially appreciated by Americans trapped in Europe and wanted to get home safely. However, Cunard eventually decided with passenger numbers dropping that speed could be reduced for economy’s sake, but that Lusitania could still outrun any submarine. “Dead Wake” begins with the preparations for the May 1, 1915 voyage. The hustle and bustle of pier 54 is vividly described, so much so, that readers can envision themselves as crew load the baggage and passengers board the gangways to their assigned staterooms. Darting among the crowd is veteran reporter Jack Lawrence who chats with many, including the wealthy scion Alfred Vanderbilt. An ominous telegram signed “Morte” has warned Vanderbilt not to sail, but he laughs it off with Lawrence who then moves onto his next interview. Rare book dealer Charles Lauriat carries with him a rare Charles Dickens volume and has it ready just in case of evacuation, while Dwight Harris carries aboard his own lifebelt. Alta Piper receives a psychic warning at the last moment not to board the Lusitania. There is an ominous feeling of suppressed dread that lingers in the air which Larson conveys with his well-chosen cast of characters that move the story forward.
However, the story is not entirely set aboard the ship, but also under the sea in the German submarine U-20, in the dark corners of the British intelligence room 40, and in the lovelorn and war leery President Wilson’s White House. It is the perfect quadrangle of intrigue that makes this a page-turner as each major character is fleshed out due to Larson’s skills as an investigative journalist. Some authors choose to just copy what others have found in archives, but Larson’s research into the backgrounds of his principle players makes the story more intimate. Preston Prichard may not have survived, but letters to his grieving family from those who knew him describe a friendly cabin mate, an agreeable table companion, and energetic games organizer. Nothing is more poignant than the women who developed crushes on him during the crossing and the sadness of his loss. A young boy named Robert Kay is traveling to see his mother’s people. Mrs. Kay is heavily pregnant as were several others. The author conveys the loneliness of Robert’s mid-voyage quarantine of measles as he wistfully looks out his porthole. A remark by Ethel Line’s stewardess reminds us that despite the card games, dances, and hearty meals all that the danger is not over yet. She tells the young woman that the ship will not go down, but up with all the munitions rumored to be aboard.
The day of fate arrives, and once the Irish coast comes into view, we anticipate the inevitable torpedoing. The buildup is intense and when it finally happens, the horror of war is realized. The ship goes down in a quick 18 minutes and there is no dead space as Larson carefully paces what happens to the passengers and crew. Lifeboats filled with women and children are dropped into the sea by seamen not trained in evacuation. Water entering the ship through portholes that should have been closed in the “danger zone” hastens the ship’s descent to the bottom. Yet, despite this confusion many remained stoic and helped where they could. Readers will wince as Mrs. Kay holds her son’s hand as the ocean rushes towards them, or when Ogden Hammond tries to prevent his lifeboat from spilling everyone into the water as he vainly clutches the ropes. Two brothers named Morton are part of the crew and try until the last second to launch a lifeboat filled with people, but time has run out for the Lusitania.
Hours pass as survivors wait for rescue, but for many rescue comes too late. The heroism continues as people help keep others afloat, pulling them into lifeboats and rafts and to go search for any further survivors. The despair is captured magnificently and readers will no doubt be overcome with emotion as people are landed in Queenstown and the search through morgues begins. When the book ends, we know where the people in each story are headed and we are assured that life goes on… As Larson shows, sometimes for the better, other times for the worst.
People who enjoy history, human interest, suspense, etc … will consider this book a new favorite. Those familiar with the Lusitania’s story will find a nice mix of new and established passenger and crew accounts, but without the extraneous material that weighs down other books. Erik Larson proves that history is not boring. He is the right man to take us on these journeys through time and make us learn something along the way. It was a distinct pleasure to provide assistance for this book.
Michael Poirier is co-author of “Into the Danger Zone: Sea Crossings of the First World War”, now available world-wide on Amazon and through the publisher, The History Press UK.
Also, the Lusitania was transporting ammunition and other supplies to Liverpool to support the British war effort. As a result, the German Navy was justified in sinking this ship. Winston Churchill even wanted German submarines to sink more civilian vessels, especially those carrying Americans, as that would increase the possibility of the United States entering the war to support the UK.
History and the world are complicated. Rarely is a situation black and white and right and wrong.
Top reviews from other countries
Although it initially seemed that Lusitania was a ship that had learnt the lessons of Titanic, with passengers assured that there were lifeboats for all, this sinking again shows how size, and speed, were seen as all important in terms of safety. Although the ship had been warned that it would be in danger, when it sailed into the war zone, most passengers accepted the assurances that they could outrun submarines (they obviously didn't) or would be given an escort by the British Navy (they weren't). The Captain swung out lifeboats as the ship neared Ireland, and messages warned of U-boats, but circumstances meant actions taken failed to help when disaster struck. Although some passengers were nervous, again, it was seen as wiser to deny the danger, even after the ship had been hit; meaning passengers were unsure where to go, or what to do, and many were unaware of how to put on life-jackets correctly, meaning they died unnecessarily. This was especially true as the ship sank quickly and there were a large number of families and children aboard.
This is a good overview of the disaster, and the aftermath, as well as the political situation during wartime and how the sinking of the Lusitania helped sway public opinion.
I do find surprising, however, that, although Larson tells us about life on the Lusitania through many of its passengers, he focuses only on first and second class ones. He doesn't speak at all about anyone in third class. And even amongst the first and second class, he gives us glimpses of only a few. I think it would have added so much if he had included even more personal stories, giving us an even richer and deeper understanding of the people involved and the lives lost on that day. Some of the most famous ones he virtually ignores. Also, so many of the passengers were just children. I would have like to know more about them. The human side of this story is so compelling.
All in all, though, it is quite a good read. Definitely worth buying and it won't take you long to go through it.
We all know what happened to the Lusitania. But that doesn't make the story - and Larson's account - any less edge-of-seat. The subject and the author certainly stirs the passions! It's a bit like watching a disaster movie, where one knows what happens, but still can't help willing that the end will somehow be different. And there's an incredulity to it, as well. Surely Kaiser Bill and his cronies knew that by sinking a ship with so many US citizens on board would encourage the States to enter the war (though it wasn't quick in doing so, even then)? The commander of U-20 patrols the waters around the British Isles sinking any unfortunate vessel that came into his sights, regardless of the neutrality of many. The German Empire seemed to be hellbent on the destruction of anything and everything (arguably, even itself).
There's a lot of controversy surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania, obviously. How could the Germans be so cruel and heartless to sink a merchant ship with nearly two-thousand innocent civilians on board? Larson reels of the figures: 'Of the Lusitania's 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived; the total of deaths was 1,195. The three German stowaways brought the total to 1,198. Of 33 infants aboard, only 6 survived. Over 600 passengers were never found. Among the dead were 123 Americans.'
But was the British Admiralty culpable? Why didn't navy ships escort the Lusitania through the war zone? Why did one torpedo sink a ship as big as her (although the authorities persisted in claiming it was two)? Why did it only take eighteen minutes for the liner to sink? And why had the King previously asked if America would enter the war if the Lusitania was lost? In other words, was the Lusitania sacrificed to provoke the US to join the Allies?
Larson's account is compelling and stirs a lot of passions. That the U-boat crew celebrated the sinking and the German people were jubilant disgusts me. His wife later claimed that the U-boat commander was a broken man after he realised what he has done, but his later actions bely that. I am against the death penalty, but I was pleased when I read that his later command was sunk and he was lost. Equally, I am disgusted that the Admirality may have sacrificed the Lusitania and those on board for the war effort. Of course, it's all conjecture and unlikely that we will ever know the truth, but the conspiracy theories will continue. And the 'what ifs' are equally maddening: What if the Lusitania's departure from New York hadn't been delayed? What if she hadn't stopped for two hours to pick up passengers from another ship commandeered by the Admiralty? What if she had been travelling at full speed, rather than slower to save coal? What if the fog hadn't lifted? Indeed, the Lusitania's sister ship, Mauretania, narrowly avoided a U-boat attack herself. So much was down to chance.
In other words, a ripping yarn.