Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

#1 New York Times BestsellerFrom the bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the LusitaniaOn 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 passen...

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Title:Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Author:Erik Larson
Rating:
ISBN:0307408868
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:430 pages

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Reviews

  • Diane S ☔
    Oct 27, 2014

    Larson writes wonderful narrative non fiction, and in this book he has surpassed his own self. The amount of research that went into this book is staggering. It doesn't just cover the bombing of the Lusitania, it covers everything going once at the time and more.

    What it is like inside a submarine, the roles of the crew members, how it feels and even how it smells. president Wilson's grief at the death of his wife and his courting of his second wife. The career of the Captain of the Lusitania and

    Larson writes wonderful narrative non fiction, and in this book he has surpassed his own self. The amount of research that went into this book is staggering. It doesn't just cover the bombing of the Lusitania, it covers everything going once at the time and more.

    What it is like inside a submarine, the roles of the crew members, how it feels and even how it smells. president Wilson's grief at the death of his wife and his courting of his second wife. The career of the Captain of the Lusitania and the quirks in his personality. What the ship looked like, inside and out, the decorations, the food, the labor involved. The passengers, the famous and those not. The politics of the day, what secrets were known when and how. It is extraordinarily detailed but I was never bored, found it all fascinating. So much history set down for me to enjoy.

    There is only one Larson book I was not crazy about, that one remains half finished, but this is an author whose books I buy to reread and savor. By the end of the book, I had a clear and concise picture of so many things I had never knew before. Also had gotten to know some of the people on the ship and was devastated that some of them were the ones who died. A horrible tragedy bought to life, to be remembered and learned from, if only. Amazing.

  • Elyse
    Dec 08, 2014

    Wow....

    This is an all-embracing historical heartbreak story....a tragedy that could have been

    avoided. The seas were a war zone ..

    Right from the start, we learn that their were delays leaving New York...( America was not yet at war yet in May, 1915, against Germany).

    Red flag warnings were everywhere. They were suppose to run the ship on 4 engines, but got by with 3.

    The German government warned Americans that traveling on trans-Atlantic wasn't safe.

    Other safety conditions like respect for fog

    Wow....

    This is an all-embracing historical heartbreak story....a tragedy that could have been

    avoided. The seas were a war zone ..

    Right from the start, we learn that their were delays leaving New York...( America was not yet at war yet in May, 1915, against Germany).

    Red flag warnings were everywhere. They were suppose to run the ship on 4 engines, but got by with 3.

    The German government warned Americans that traveling on trans-Atlantic wasn't safe.

    Other safety conditions like respect for fog were ignored.

    Nobody was taking warning signs serious....let alone be preventive- in - the areas of 'all' safety, to the level we would expect.

    It's painful to see ( now, in hindsight), all the many corrections that would have saved thousands of lives. (more babies onboard than usual, too)!

    ....

    This non-fiction book reads like fiction!!!! I WISH IT WAS! Unfortunately ...these are true events.

    All the events leading up to the ships final crossing was energizing. I found it absolutely fascinating reading the details about the ship - the submarine - William Thomas Turner, ( his professional growth to well respected and qualified Captain of the Lusitania), and his personal life at home.

    It was especially fascinating hearing from the people who survived..... and sad to learn which characters didn't.

    Eric Larrson's detail descriptions were extraordinary!!! - the ship- the crew- the submarine- the passengers- ...the suspense in which the story unfolded...

    Mostly I'm left with sadness at how many opportunities were missed... making this

    tale all the more tragic!!!!

    *This story is powerful as "The Devil in the White City"....( both stories will be hard to ever forget)

    I also enjoyed "In the Garden of Beasts"....(3 for 3)... I guess I'm a fan of this author...

    and I didn't even know it! How'd that happen? lol

    Talented authors ... gotta love em!!!

  • Jill
    Jan 18, 2015

    When a new Erik Larson arrives, I drop everything and read it. In my book, he’s one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive. And his opening note held forth a big promise: “I give you now the saga of the Lusitania and the myriad forces, large and achingly small, that converged one lovely day in May 1915 to produce a tragedy of monumental scale, whose true character and import have long been obscured in the mists of history.”

    My first thought was: “WHAT true character and imp

    When a new Erik Larson arrives, I drop everything and read it. In my book, he’s one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive. And his opening note held forth a big promise: “I give you now the saga of the Lusitania and the myriad forces, large and achingly small, that converged one lovely day in May 1915 to produce a tragedy of monumental scale, whose true character and import have long been obscured in the mists of history.”

    My first thought was: “WHAT true character and import? Everyone knows about the Lusitania – sunk by a U-2 torpedo and finally propelling America head-first into WW I.” Well, after finishing, I stand corrected. The story of the Lusitania still offers up many secrets.

    Unlike Mr. Larson’s former books, this one is slow opening. The focus is not an individual (as it is in Isaac’s Storm, the Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck and In The Garden of Beasts, with history as a backdrop), but squarely on the story of the Lusitania. So the first 80 pages or so set the stage: the winds of war in Europe, the background of the Lusitania and its captain, William Thomas Turner.

    But when the Lusitania begins its voyage? Wow! Nearly 2,000 passengers were aboard and also, 170 tons of Remington rifle ammunition, making it a clear and attractive target to the Germans. The passengers were not unaware that U-2 boats were bringing terror to the North Atlantic seas. We meet several of them throughout these pages: the ones who will live, the ones who will die. And we also catch many glimpses of the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson, a widower who is distracted by a new (and ultimately, enduring) love affair that diverts his attention from the world stage.

    The book is filled with questions worth asking: why did the Admiralty not provide an escort to the Lusitania, given that the ship carried a vital cargo of ammunition and artillery shells? Why did British intelligence obsessively protect the HMS Orion and provide no protection to the Lusitania? Why did they not divert he Lusitania to the newer and safer North Channel route? And most of all, “why was the ship left on its own, with a proven killer of men and ships dead ahead in its path?” Did the British deliberately set up the Lusitania to force America’s hand to enter the war?

    Hanging over the story of the Lusitania is its rendezvous with destiny. Had U-2 captain Schwieger not overestimated the ship’s speed, if the Lusitania had departed precisely on time, if Capt. Turner had not made a final turn to starboard, had the torpedo failed (60 percent of torpedoes DID fail), there would not be a Lusitania story. And one last question remains: did the Lusitania, in fact, cause the U.S. to enter the war or was there more to the story? Read Dead Wake and find out!

  • Dem
    Mar 17, 2015

    and Erik Larson's Dead wake : The last crossing of the Lusitania is certainly packed full of detail but details that for me made this book such a worthwhile read. Living in Ireland I thought I was informed through history classes in school of the events surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania off the cost of Kinsale Head in Co. Cork however I was surprised by the information I gained by reading Dead Wake. Published to coincide with the 100th Anniversary in May of

    and Erik Larson's Dead wake : The last crossing of the Lusitania is certainly packed full of detail but details that for me made this book such a worthwhile read. Living in Ireland I thought I was informed through history classes in school of the events surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania off the cost of Kinsale Head in Co. Cork however I was surprised by the information I gained by reading Dead Wake. Published to coincide with the 100th Anniversary in May of this great Maritime tragedy I think this book will inform a whole new generation about a tragedy about an important event in History.

    The book is extremely well researched and supported by extensive references and notes. I read this book on my kindle and was delighted to see that by clicking on a number I was taking to a link providing me with the source of a fact, statement or piece of information.

    I enjoyed reading about the luxury of the ship as opposed to the dreadful conditions of the Submarine and felt I really got a feel for how difficult life on board a sub could be in times of war. There is an air of suspense throughout the book even though we know the outcome the author manages to hold our attention and keep us engrossed. We also learn a little about the passengers on board the Lusitania but I never got emotionally attached to the characters and this worked well as the book was about facts and events and providing the reader with enough information to form an opinion as to how a ship like the Lusitania ended its voyage in such tragic circumstances.

    This is a book for readers who have an interest in books about war and events in history. It's well written and researched and I came away feeling I had learned something new. I will certainly check out some more reads by this author as this was an engrossing and informative read.

  • Mona
    Mar 23, 2015

    I don't read a lot of nonfiction.

    But

    's books read like novels.

    He's an excellent writer. He choses historical events that contain a compelling story. He fills the books with details that bring the time, place, and people to life. He does an enormous amount of research.

    I loved Larson's

    , a story about the Chicago world's fair and the convergence of

    I don't read a lot of nonfiction.

    But

    's books read like novels.

    He's an excellent writer. He choses historical events that contain a compelling story. He fills the books with details that bring the time, place, and people to life. He does an enormous amount of research.

    I loved Larson's

    , a story about the Chicago world's fair and the convergence of two men, one the fair's architect, the other a serial killer.

    So when I saw he'd come out with a new book, I got hold of the audio as soon as I could get it.

    The story was not quite as compelling as

    . Perhaps in part this was because there were stories about many people instead of the focus on the two main characters as in

    .

    Still, Larson did his usual excellent job.

    And of course, since I live in New York City, I am fascinated by NY City history.

    Larson covers the last voyage of the Lusitania from the beginning.

    He starts with the preparation of the ship for launch from Pier 54 at Little West 12th Street and the Hudson River (it's now used for concerts). The West Side Highway now adjacent to Pier 54 didn't yet exist in 1915, the year the Lusitania went down.

    It's fascinating and the reader feels like he or she is right there with the passengers as they board with their huge and unwieldy trunks and their elaborate travelling outfits.

    The German government placed a warning advertisement in fifty U.S. newspapers in April, warning that Germany was at war with Britain and that the safety of those travelling on trans-Atlantic crossings could not be guaranteed.

    However, no one took the German warnings entirely seriously. First of all, the previous rules of engagement had dictated that ships carrying civilians could not be attacked. Also, Cunard, the owner of the Lusitania, stood to lose a lot of money if it cancelled its trans-Atlantic voyages.

    Tragically, there were more children and babies on this voyage than usual.

    Also, in an ironic twist of fate, another ship, the SS Cameronia, which was supposed to embark at around the same time as the Lusitania, was commandeered by the British Navy for its war effort, so its 41 passengers were transferred to the Lusitania at the last minute.

    The ship launched (a bit late for various reasons) on May 1, 1915.

    Larson details the trans-Atlantic voyage, which was largely pleasant and uneventful until the fateful day of May 7, 1915,

    The ship was headed for Liverpool, England.

    Its captain, William Thomas Turner, was a capable and experienced sea captain.

    Larson also reconstructs the viewpoint of the Captain of the German U-boat, U-20, that sunk the Lusitania on May 7. This man, Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, was a talented and dedicated captain, intent on sinking neutral or enemy ships, as this was his job. He was also, apparently, a good man. He was heartsick when he realized that women and children died in droves when the Lusitania sank.

    U-20 hit the Lusitania with a single torpedo on May 7 a little after 2 pm a few miles off the Irish coast. The ship sunk in about twenty minutes. There was also a second explosion onboard, presumably caused by steam pipes on the ship.

    More than a thousand lives were lost.

    Several famous people died in the wreck, including Alfred Vanderbilt, who reportedly gave his life jacket to a mother with a child, even though he couldn't swim; writer

    , known for

    ; and theatrical producer Charles Frohman.

    Larson follows the stories of several lesser known passengers, some who survived, others who didn't. For example, he follows Richard "Preston" Pritchard, a handsome and popular medical student who apparently died in the sinking. Connecticut resident Theodate Pope survived. She was one of the first female architects in America. She was also involved in spiritualism and possibly in theosophy. Her companion on the voyage, Edwin Friend, was lost at sea.

    The Lusitania was sunk at a time of greater faith. I was amazed how many facing death were sustained by their spiritual faith and were able to be calm while dealing with disaster. Many survivors reported mystical experiences while waiting to be rescued.

    However, in other ways, things haven't changed much since 1915.

    I found it interesting that the authorities (in particular Winston Churchill) tried to pin the blame for the sinking on Captain Turner. However, there was an inquest in which

    Turner was exonerated.

    I don't think that brave man, who did survive, was in any way responsible. He stayed with the ship until its last moments.

    Here are some telling facts:

    The Lusitania's speed was limited to less than the 25 knots per hour of which she was capable because Cunard Lines required Captain Turner to cut costs by using only three of Lusitania's four smoke stacks. If the ship was running at top speed, perhaps she could have outrun the U-boat.

    Although the British knew that U-20 was quite close to the Lusitania, they never warned the ship because they were concerned about revealing their secret operations for decoding the German's encoded messages.

    By the time the Lusitania received a message about U-20 it was too late.

    Although the Lusitania had been promised British warships to escort it, those warships never showed up. The Brits had already lost some warships to an earlier torpedoing, and apparently they didn't want to risk losing any more battle ships.

    The designers of the collapsible boats did not test them to make sure they were easily deployed in an emergency. Apparently the boats were not well designed. Captain Turner did conduct at least one drill with the crew for deploying the boats, but Cunard did not focus on passenger safety in the event of an emergency.

    No one believed that the Germans would actually sink a passenger boat, as this went counter to previous rules of engagement.

    One wonders whether the British government deliberately allowed the Lusitania to be destroyed to force America to enter World War I. As it happened, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson did in fact bring the U.S. into the war shortly after the destruction of the Lusitania.

    In any case, Scott Brick is the ideal audio reader for this type of material. His expressive voice brings Larson's writing to life.

    Update: I saw Erik Larson speak on February 2, 2016.. He was as engaging and interesting a speaker as he is a writer... But he was funnier and more charming in person.

  • Stephanie
    Apr 06, 2015

    I am going to keep this short, as over 6,600 others have reviewed this fabulous work on GR!

    May 7, 1915 - The Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine. It sank in 18 minutes. Of the known 1,960 people on board, 767 survived and 1,193 perished.

    The Lusitania was carrying a large number of Americans (including women and children). The sinking of the Lusitania and resulting

    I am going to keep this short, as over 6,600 others have reviewed this fabulous work on GR!

    May 7, 1915 - The Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine. It sank in 18 minutes. Of the known 1,960 people on board, 767 survived and 1,193 perished.

    The Lusitania was carrying a large number of Americans (including women and children). The sinking of the Lusitania and resulting deaths of civilians and citizens of neutral nations aboard the ship is considered one of the first modern examples of “total war” and a turning point in World War I.

    * Tremendous depth and breadth of resource materials were cited.

    * Colorful details on the passengers (especially American). You got to know some of them and were heartbroken with how they were impacted by this event.

    * A chilling view into life on a U-boat (and especially the Captain and his utter disregard for human life).

    * This event triggered a change in American mood surrounding involvement in WWI, but didn't result in the US entering the war (it happened 2 years later).

    * Many ways that this tragedy could have been avoided.

    * Passengers weren't shown basic life saving procedures -- even how to properly put on a life jacket. Many of the dead had life jackets on, but they were tragically upside down.

    * The Lusitania sunk so fast that only 6 of 22 lifeboats were launched. Of these, some were dropped onto people - and others were dropped upside down into the ocean.

    Winston Churchill on Germans attacking the Lusitania and leaving civilians and crew “to perish in open boats or drown amid the waves was in the eyes of all seafaring peoples a grisly act, which hitherto had never been practised except by pirates”.

    The following site includes significant amount of information on this event:

    I highly recommend

    to all readers of non-fiction and to readers of historical fiction. I can't wait to read more of

    !!

  • Matt
    Apr 07, 2015

    When I came across a radio interview with Erik Larson, talking about his new

    book,

    , I knew I had to have it. I was excited. Like, I’m going to buy this on my phone as soon as I park my car excited.

    As many of you know, I’m deep into a World War I reading project. I’ve collected so many new titles that my kids are never going to college. The

    sinking was a moral turning point in the war. It turned American opinion inexorably against Germany. It also sowed no small amo

    When I came across a radio interview with Erik Larson, talking about his new

    book,

    , I knew I had to have it. I was excited. Like, I’m going to buy this on my phone as soon as I park my car excited.

    As many of you know, I’m deep into a World War I reading project. I’ve collected so many new titles that my kids are never going to college. The

    sinking was a moral turning point in the war. It turned American opinion inexorably against Germany. It also sowed no small amount of disarray in German submarine policy. It is not quite the Pearl Harbor it is made out to be, but it is immensely important. Thus, the

    is a required topic in WWI studies. (Also, it should be noted, I am a

    buff, and the

    sinking is a close cousin in the disaster family).

    So there was no doubt I’d read this book. That didn't mean I expected to love it. A couple things gave me pause.

    First, I am not an unabashed Larson admirer. I liked

    , his book on the Galveston hurricane, but I liked it in the sense that I like the sandwich I eat for lunch every day. That is to say nourishing, but nothing to sing from the rooftops. I was also a bit worried by his guileless admission to knowing next to nothing about the

    when he started researching the book. It’s foolish to expect a person to be an expert before he starts his research, but his lack of basic knowledge (such as the fact that the ship sank in 1915 and American did not enter the war until 1917) gave me pause. I didn't want to read some hasty work of dilettantism meant to capitalize on centenary interest of the lost liner.

    My worries were for naught. This is, in fact, an excellent book. It is not the definitive account of the

    (I think Diana Preston’s book is more thorough), but it is far and away the best. Every book about a sinking ship is eventually compared to Walter Lord’s

    . It is a natural law. Nothing can exceed Lord, of course, but Larson does a damn fine imitation.

    The

    sank at a stately 2 hours and 40 minutes after striking an iceberg on April 14, 1912. That lengthy time-period is part of the reason for the many dramatic retellings. Everyone on board that doomed vessel had time to take a breath, look hard into their own soul, and decide what kind of person they were. Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay stepped into a lifeboat. Isidor and Ida Strauss did not. Whatever else their decisions meant (life or death, chiefly), they are godsends to the dramatist interested in the human ability to flourish or crumble under duress.

    The

    , on the other hand, was hit by a single torpedo fired by the German submarine U-20 on May 7, 1915. The impact caused incredible damage, heightened by mysterious sympathetic explosions (coal-dust or burst steam pipes, most likely; almost certainly not munitions) that destroyed the

    's steering and power. The ship was locked into a turn with the propellers still churning forward. She sank in

    minutes while developing such a severe starboard list that her starboard boats swung far away from the decks, while the portside boats couldn’t be lowered because they were flush against the hull. The evacuation was a disaster, compounded by the loss of many trained crewmembers to the navy. There was no order, no law, no “women and children first.” The ship sank within sight of land, but in terms of help, they were so far from civilization they might as well have been on the Moon. 1,198 people died: 1,195 passengers and crew, plus 3 German stowaways. (There was a large percentage of kids on board, including infants. In terms of standing a chance at survival on that tilting, plunging deck... It might be best not to think about it).

    The chaotic nature of the sinking makes for a difficult narrative. Larson solves this problem by paring down his scope to focus on just a handful of people, chief among them the Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat, the female architect Theodate Pope, and crewmember Leslie Morton. He also chooses to mostly ignore the better-known personages. For instance, Alfred Vanderbilt, the ship’s most famous (and wealthy) passenger, rates only 6 mentions in the index.

    Larson also spends a great deal of time with Captain Turner, the

    ’s master – like Captain Smith, an old sea dog who never learned a new trick – and the U-20’s commander, Walter Schwieger. Oddly, Larson also devotes an inordinate amount of space to President Woodrow Wilson and his burgeoning love affair with Edith Bolling Galt. He quotes extensively from Wilson’s moony letters. In a different book, say, a biography of Wilson, this would make perfect sense. Here, it’s just a needless distraction. The space could have been better served by finding another passenger to follow. (Or with some freaking pictures! How does a major release like this not rate an inset?)

    is structured like a suspense thriller. Larson utilizes short, punchy chapters that cut between Wilson’s maudlin romance in Washington, D.C.; the intelligence operatives in Great Britain’s secret Room 40; the curmudgeonly Captain Turner and his wealthy passengers on the

    (this is the second

    title I've read in short order that ignores the very existence of steerage passengers); and Captain Schweiger and his crew of the small but formidable U-20.

    The scenes set aboard the U-20 are among the book’s best. Larson admits to enjoying this part the most during the writing and research process, and it shows. He fills these sections with pungent, tactile details about the cramped conditions, the myriad dangers, and the many horrible smells a WWI submariner faced.

    The attack on the

    and her sinking is told in vivid, lucid prose.

    I mentioned above that Larson focuses his narrative on a small number of passengers. Before the sinking he spends a great deal of time on their biographies; a lot of this detail feels mundane and misplaced. You might wonder why you have to learn so much about Charles Lauriat’s bookselling business. Well, the payoff comes when Larson shifts into the

    ’s final agony. You are very much invested in the stories of the passengers and crew struggling to survive because so much time has been devoted to them. (It’s strange, but I when I read, I generally feel a stronger emotional connection to fictional characters than to actual historical people, because fictional characters are given more detail, more life. Nonfiction personages often come across like the stone monuments that now memorialize them. Larson does a good job of making real people seem, well, real).

    I’ve now got several

    books under my belt. I didn't learn anything new in

    . Indeed, there is more information to be found in other sources. However, this is by far the most compelling, the most riveting presentation of this story, and also one of the better works of history I’ve read in awhile. Whether you’re a World War I buff celebrating the centenary, or a casually interested reader laying beneath the sun while on the deck of a hopefully-non-sinking cruise ship, this is a great choice.

  • Will Byrnes
    May 24, 2015

    On May 7, 1914, only a few years after that most famous of ocean-liners had had an unfortunate encounter with an iceberg on its maiden voyage, RMS Lusitania, popularly referred to as “Lucy,” having already crossed the Atlantic dozens of times, this time

    On May 7, 1914, only a few years after that most famous of ocean-liners had had an unfortunate encounter with an iceberg on its maiden voyage, RMS Lusitania, popularly referred to as “Lucy,” having already crossed the Atlantic dozens of times, this time carrying 1,962 souls, was sunk by a German U-boat off the Irish coast. Almost 1200 people perished. Erik Larson casts his perceptive eyes on the event, looking for explanations. Why was the ship sunk? Had it been possible for the ship to have avoided its fate? What were the global circumstances at the time and how did those effect the disaster? Who and what was on the ship? Why? What was the big deal about the Lusitania? Other ships had been sunk by U-boats during this conflict. How did the sinking of the Lusitania affect American entry into

    ?

    - From PBS

    We all have preconceptions, notions that hardly seem worth examining. I expect for most of us, the details of the sinking of the Lusitania are clouded by the fog of time. We might believe that, as with the sinking of the USS Maine in Cuba, the national response was immediate and violent. Turns out the reality was far different.

    - from Cinewiki.wikispaces.com

    Larson looks at events in several threads. Mostly he follows the events on the Lusitania and on the German sub (U-20 - U-boat is an abbreviation of

    , or undersea boat) that would bring it down. In parallel, he looks at the politics involved in, not so much the causes of World War I, but in the stages between the commencement of hostilities and the eventual drawing of the USA into the war. He looks at the milieu in which American president Woodrow Wilson existed, politically and personally. He looks at the people involved in making tactical decisions, and at a special, secret intelligence gathering location in the UK. He stops, also, for a look at the sad accumulation of the victims in Ireland.

    Larson offers a view of the Lusitania that might not be obvious to those of us looking back a hundred years. We might, for example, think of it as a relatively slow moving ocean liner, but it was the fastest civilian ship of its time. Its exceptional speed was a major selling point. There is plenty more detail about the ship, the different sorts of lifeboats, with their potential benefits and downsides, the unusual hull it used. Lucy carried a relatively inexperienced crew, due to so many able-bodied seamen having been drawn into the military. New, unusual life vests were used on the ship, and training in their use was lacking, as was training in using the lifeboats.

    On the other side, it is remarkable how fragile U-boats were, and the limitations they faced in pursuing their mission. Larson offers us a look aboard the sub that did the deed, captain’s log and all. How fast were these boats? What was their range? What was their mission, their command structure? What was the physical environment like for submariners? What could they not do? Where could they not go? How did they keep in touch with their land-based command? What were their orders? What was the mindset of the captain, of his crew? Lots to look at here, eye-opening stuff. Don’t sign me up for life on a sub.

    - from Lusitania.net

    And of course there was the interaction between militaries. How did the allies cope with the very effective plague the U-boats presented? Could they track them? If so, how did they track them? What were the capabilities of the super-secret Room 40? What was the decision process the German command used in deciding how to use this powerful weapon?

    - from Lusitania.net

    One thing Larson does is follow the narrative of several of the passengers aboard the big boat. This brings the disaster away from technical details to actual human experience. You will get to know some of the passengers, and learn their fates.

    There is a wealth of information in

    . For example, the biggest surprise for most readers, and perhaps the most controversial element in the book is the suggestion that Britain did not exactly do all it might have to protect Lucy from enemy attack, as there were some at the highest levels of government who believed that such an event might hasten the enlistment of the USA into the war. There were other factors for sure that contributed to why Lucy was where she was when she was, but most of those lack the bitter flavor of dark calculation. And maintaining the sour taste is a description of how shameless members of the admiralty sought to evade personal responsibility for the sinking by pointing fingers at a designated patsy. Despite the denials all around that the Lusitania was purely a civilian ship, the fact was that it was carrying a considerable supply of military materiel for use against Germany.

    would most definitely have had some ‘splaining to do’ had it been known that supposedly neutral America was using her as a military transport to support the Allies.

    - from New Hampshire Public Radio

    There is plenty of drama to go around here. Even though we know what will happen, Larson succeeds in instilling tension into the coming together of Lucy with her killer. The descriptions of life aboard the sub are compelling; information about the physical realities of the Lusitania is fascinating, and looking at the probable decision-making involved is enraging.

    This is not to say that there are no rents in the hull taking on a bit of the briny. While it seemed clear that tracking individual passengers was intended to take the story from an emotionally removed overview down a bit closer to sea level, I found that most of these passages were not all that engaging. It also seemed not entirely clear that Woodrow Wilson’s domestic situation was necessarily all that important in his reluctance to bring the USA into the war.

    On the other hand there are bits that are depressingly resonant with more contemporary outrages, as left hands not keeping right hands informed of their actions contributed to the ultimate catastrophe. Information that could have identified a sub in a shipping lane was available, but was not put together in time. Very reminiscent of 9/11. Our species certainly seems well practiced in learning nothing from history. One contributing factor was a corporate cost-cutting measure that kept Lucy from making her best time across the Atlantic. Had she been allowed to use all four of her boilers instead of only three, she would never have encountered U-20. The

    disaster, and many more such incidents remind us that pursuit of the almighty dollar/pound/euro/(insert your currency here) will always be assigned a higher value than human life or the safety of the environment for many of the people making such decisions.

    and

    Germany actually posted newspaper notices in American newspapers, before the Lusitania set sail from New York City, that all ships entering what was considered a war zone were at risk of being sunk. It would not be the last time clear messages of intent from Germany would be ignored to our everlasting regret.

    is a wonderful piece of writing, not only diving down into details of what is probably a murky subject for most of us, offering a greater understanding of the physical event, but providing a context within which we can achieve a greater understanding of the causes and implications of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. As a bit of historical reporting is it definitely a case of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

    Review posted – 7/3/15

    Publication dates

    -----3/10/15 - hardcover

    -----3/22/16 - paperback

    =============================

    Links to the author’s

    ,

    and

    pages

    is a wonderful source for all things Lucy

    Video from the National Archives of

    on its final voyage- the first 1:50 is mostly people getting out of cars, so feel free to skip ahead a bit

    A 1918

    Arthur Conan Doyle’s story

    was written about 18 months before the outbreak of WWI. It anticipated in considerable detail the submarine warfare to come. You can read it on Gutenberg. In the preface to the 1918 collection in which it appears, Doyle noted that he attempted to present his notions to the government, noting that he:

    If this reminds you at all of Bill Clinton and Richard Clarke trying to warn the incoming Bush administration of the danger presented by Osama bin Laden, it should.

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    Nov 19, 2015

    The term unsinkable had been obliterated from references regarding great ocean liners after the Titanic sunk in 1912. The impossible had already happened. In 1915 the Lusitan

    The term unsinkable had been obliterated from references regarding great ocean liners after the Titanic sunk in 1912. The impossible had already happened. In 1915 the Lusitania had made 202 voyages across the Atlantic. She was a floating beauty, spacious, luxurious, and fast. She was capable of 25 knots and could quickly leave behind any German U-boats who may have had thoughts of trying to sink her.

    Captain William Thomas Turner was not too worried about the Germans, despite the increase in the number of ships being sunk. He couldn’t fathom that they would be so bold or so cruel as to sink a ship filled with women and children. There had to be some niggling doubt though when the Germans sent a telegram warning people to reconsider taking trips across the Atlantic.

    I was somewhat baffled at the number of people still choosing to travel through an aggressive war zone. We’ve all heard the adage all is fair in love and war, but in the past there had always been a few rules in war regarding innocent people. Walther Schwieger, the captain of the Unterseeboot-20, didn’t adhere to any rules except the rule of engagement. His country was at war with the British, and a ship owned by the British, whether it was transporting supplies for the war effort or transporting noncombatants, was of equal interest to him. He, after all, was competing with his fellow U-Boat captains to see who could sink the most tonnage. Well, the Lusitania, at 31,550 tons, would put him over the top.

    Some people had booked passage, but had decided at the last moment not to go.

    I have a feeling she had an insistent tingle in the back of her neck.

    Erik Larson does a wonderful job introducing us to the passengers. My favorite was Charles Lauriat, an antiquarian bookseller, who talked a client into letting him borrow Charles Dicken’s very own copy of A Christmas Carol with notes from the great writer about a lawsuit he was fighting in the margins. He wanted to take it to London to allow another researcher to copy down Dicken’s notes. This might be the ultimate example, exhibit A, in

    letting a friend borrow a book. There was also Theodate Pope, the famous pioneering architect, who managed to break into a profession completely dominated by men.

    Because they survived, Larson is able to share with us some very personal observations of what happened before, during, and after the torpedo struck the ship. Part of the problem is there was 1,959 passengers and crew on board, and the ship sank in 18 minutes. How much time is lost while you decide if the ship is actually going to sink? It was dumb luck that Schwieger happened to place the torpedo in the exact spot to insure that the ship would go down. Pandemonium ensued.

    1,195 perished.

    Lots of questions were asked after the event. The picking up of extra, as it turned out very unlucky, passengers from another ship delayed their departure and increased the risk of U-Boats having time to get into position. The black smoke poured from only three of the four funnels, which cut the speed of the ship from 25 knots to 21 knots, but saved 1600 tons of coal, a money saving decision made by Cunard due to fewer people risking the trip than normal. This reduction in engines also added a day of travel. Turner did not use a zigzag motion once he reached U-Boat infested waters. The biggest question which didn’t receive enough attention or consideration was where was the Royal Navy? They should have been escorting the liner once it was this close to the Irish coast.

    Change one thing and the Lusitania would not have sunk on this trip.

    Turner came under heavy criticism, even from Winston Churchill himself, but was eventually cleared of all wrongdoings. Schwieger, if he felt any remorse for killing so many innocent people, never shared it. He did sink the most tonnage so bully for him. I hope he got a f**king plaque.

    I, for many years, like many Americans, thought that the sinking of the Lusitania was the impetus for getting America in the war. America did not enter the war for another two years. The reason given, other than the moral reasons for coming to the defense of our cousins in Britain, was the famous Zimmermann telegram.

    Larson also threads through the plot the trials and tribulations of Woodrow Wilson as he tries to convince Edith Bolling Galt to marry him. You would think the poor woman wore bacon underwear the way he convorted after her.

    So many things had to go wrong for the Lusitania to come under the cold, calculating eyes of Schwieger and the gunsights of U-Boat 20. All of them lined up, even the final blow when Turner shifted directions at the perfect moment to give Schwieger the angle he needed. It is a compelling story told by a veteran writer who knows how to pace and weave a story that, even when you know the outcome, you can’t help but throw your bag together, hop up the gangplank, and marvel at the devil in the details.

    If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit

    I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Kemper
    Dec 01, 2015

    This reminded me a lot of the movie

    not just because it’s about a disaster at sea, but also it would have been a lot shorter and better without the romantic subplot. Only in this case it was U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and Edith Bolling Galt instead of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Although I gotta admit that the scene when ole Woody sketched Edith in the nude was pretty hot…..

    Wait. I might have mixed something up there.

    This is part of the continuing trend of Erik Larson’s books

    This reminded me a lot of the movie

    not just because it’s about a disaster at sea, but also it would have been a lot shorter and better without the romantic subplot. Only in this case it was U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and Edith Bolling Galt instead of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Although I gotta admit that the scene when ole Woody sketched Edith in the nude was pretty hot…..

    Wait. I might have mixed something up there.

    This is part of the continuing trend of Erik Larson’s books for me. He has this weird knack of being able to write something that is about 50% interesting, but the other 50% always seems like it’s him stretching to tie some other kind of element to give it a hook it doesn’t really need. He can’t just tell us the story behind the 1893 World’s Fair, he has to make half the book about a serial killer. (Some people would tell you that it’s vice versa as to what’s good about that one). Or instead of doing a non-fiction pop history novel about the invention of the wireless by Marconi, he had to tie it into the capture of a famous murderer of the day. Giving a day-to-day account of living in Nazi Germany wasn’t good enough so he had to put half the focus on a promiscuous American woman and her boring father in Berlin.

    So this time out we’ve got the sinking of the

    , a fascinating historical event about which many intriguing questions remain to this day, and yet a good chunk of this book is spent detailing how President Wilson found love again after the death of his first wife. If this was a book about Wilson, or if it was some kind of deep dive into his response to the attack where knowing his mindset at the time is critical to the story, then I might understand why so much time is spent on detailing how the two of them met and how their courtship progressed.

    However since none of those things really matter I had that that same feeling while reading that I had when watching the aforementioned

    : Quit falling in love and hit the damn iceberg already. (Only it’s a German U-boat instead of a chunk of ice this time.)

    As usual with the parts I actually care about Larson does a pretty decent job of creating narrative history to give us a vivid account of what life was like for the passengers and crew of the ship as well as the Germans on the submarine. He also gives us a good idea of the touchy political situation that existed between the various nations involved because of World War I.

    He does seem to prefer doling out trivia and anecdotes rather than dealing in any meaningful way with the bigger questions of the event. The conspiracy theories about why England didn’t do more to protect the ship and speculation about the what caused a secondary explosion after the torpedo hit are barely touched on, but at the same time I know what kind of wallpaper was in the reading salon on board. Or I learned that Woody and Edith ate chicken salad on their wedding night, but nothing is said about the critical role she later played in his administration after he suffered a stroke later.

    It’s not bad, but it’s also a fairly shallow look that seems more interested in telling you what happened rather than really digging into the questions of how or why it did. It’s like the Hollywood screenplay version of history. With romance!