Top critical review
"We Are Holding Our Own." - Ernest McSorley, November 10, 1975
Reviewed in the United States on August 8, 2010
"Mighty Fitz" is a compellingly-written account of the loss of the "Edmund Fitzgerald." The book is a good introduction to the ship and the shipwreck, and does a generally fine job of relating the personalities of the people involved. I appreciate that Michael Schumacher went to the trouble to interview family members of the crewmen as well as others with a substantial role in the story rather than simply relying on previous interview accounts in the many other books, articles, and reports written on the "Fitzgerald." Schumacher writes quite well, and his prose is interesting and easy to read, likewise he is good at relating concepts that readers may not be familiar with in a comprehensible way. These good points make the book worth reading for someone interested in Great Lakes shipping or maritime accidents.
The book is not without fault, however, and a couple of the issues are significant. The most obvious is a complete absence of maps, drawings, or photographs in the book. This is fairly inexcusable, as the story is much easier (and more interesting) to follow with those aids; in particular, charts showing the tracks of the "Fitzgerald" and the "Arthur M. Anderson" on the night of November 10, 1975 would have been helpful to those unfamiliar with the accident and their proximity to Six Fathom Shoal, etc.
My other main objection to the book is that while it gives a good factual accounting of the voyage and accident, in my opinion it does seem to lean to the sensationalistic, and Schumacher's personal opinions seem to creep into the narrative. An example is on p. 69 where the author writes "[Captain] McSorley, in fact, was growing more desperate. Success in sailing through the storm depended upon his staying in control of the 'Fitzgerald,' and with the radar out, water boarding his ship, and the Whitefish Point lighthouse inoperative, he was gradually but most definitely losing control of his ship's destiny." It goes on, but that's illustrative of the larger point. How does he know McSorley was "Growing more desperate?" Most people believe that he never truly understood how much peril he was actually in. "Losing control of his ship's destiny?" Not only is that sensationalistic, but how could he believe that he was losing control if he didn't understand the true damage to his ship? The author may be right about what McSorley was feeling and what his opinions were at the time, but I can't imagine how he can know for sure, and that's my issue with the way it's written.
On balance this is a highly readable account of the demise of the "Fitzgerald," and I recommend it with the reservations I mentioned above. It is a great introduction to the accident, and is probably the best organized book I have read on the subject, but it's important to really think about the beautifully written (if occasionally trite) prose. Despite it's sometimes rambling nature and disparaging remarks about the Coast Guard, I still prefer Frederick Stonehouse's classic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which is a more analytical book that is very well illustrated. Better yet, read them both and compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of each.