Top positive review
in other ways we cling stubbornly to outmoded beliefs which ultimately do us great harm. Read this to know more about the ...
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2015
Retelling a story that has been told many times already is either foolish (what’s new?) or courageous (see what’s new!). Larson successfully manages to bring a fresh perspective to a tale that I felt I knew.
Dead Wake- The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is a surprisingly well crafted re-telling of a known event. Despite knowing the outcome - the loss of nearly 1,200 souls at the hands of a German U-boat in the spring of 1917 - Larson keeps pulling the reader along. He does so by adopting many perspectives - those of passengers on the cruise ship, crew members on the U-boat, Woodrow Wilson in the White House to name just a few - with just the right amount of telling detail to bring the reader into the moment. Reading Dead Wake is a tutorial in early twentieth century naval architecture, morality, social manners and political history.
Larson shows how the sinking of the Lusitania was, for many, a “Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back”. Taken in isolation, this was a tragedy. Indeed, the captains of the Lusitania and the U-Boat, Cunard executives, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm made assumptions about each other’s behaviors and interests which proved to be tragically wrong. Put in the context of the beginning of World War I, the sinking altered the course of history by dragging the United States into the conflict.
In other ways, the event was a classical tipping point. One era - the world of Victorian manners and gentlemanly wars - ended and another - the era of global modern warfare and the emergence of American leadership - began. Never again would it be safe to assume a bright line between civilian (commercial) and political (military interests).
Hanging over the Lusitania disaster is a sense of avoidable inevitability. If any one of many points along the voyage - slowing down to pick up mail, changing course to get bearings, information not transmitted from British intelligence - had gone differently the Lusitania would not have had a rendezvous with its tragic destiny. It would have steamed calmly into port. However, they didn’t go the other way and history as we now know it unfolded.
We now live in a world where we try to take lessons from this eminently avoidable disaster. Technology dependence? The Lusitania was too fast and too big to be sunk. False assumptions about the enemy? The Germans miscalculated British and American reactions. Changing social mores? The British put civilians in harms way for military purposes. For that alone, Larson’s use of history to illuminate the past to help in the present is invaluable. We had our own Lusitania disaster with 9/11. What will the next one be?
As with ether books by Eirk Larson (In the Garden of the Beasts and the Devil in the White City) the reader learns not just about the event, but about the era in which the event took place. We are nearly a century beyond the values of Victorian England and adolescent America. In some ways we have made progress, in other ways we cling stubbornly to outmoded beliefs which ultimately do us great harm.
Read this to know more about the past and to be better prepared for the future.