I was looking for something to read and I found this book on my night table. I’m not a big consumer of non-fiction unless it’s news so I wasn’t sure how I’d like this. The good thing is that I really liked it. Erik Larson weaves a tale of intrigue, filled with historic details and characters that come to life under his pen.
The historic details lend themselves to suspense. A luxury cruise liner leaves its New York harbour to sail for Liverpool in May 1915. The ship would sail through enemy territory where German U-boats were sinking enemy ships. In spite of the warnings by Germany that the seas around England were a war zone, the Lusitania sailed to Liverpool with barely a thought that it would be the object of a German attack. Little did they know that the rules of war were changing.
Larson gives a vivid snapshot of the wealthy passengers including theatre folks and book dealers, and established wealth on board the ship. You get to know the families, and why they’re there, how the children occupied themselves, and how many tried to survive the sinking of the ship.
Chapters alternate between the different elements of the story giving the reader a 360 degree view of the unfolding of events that culminated in the sinking of the ship. The strength of the book lies in discovering the characters behind the historic fact. The reader is introduced to the Captain of the U-boat, the characters who occupied the office that decoded German war messages, Winston Churchill makes an appearance as does Woodrow Wilson.
If there is a weakness in the book it’s in the portrait of Woodrow Wilson who appears as a grief-stricken love-lost bumbling idiot. The author definitely seems to have it in for him! Aside from that I found the book a compelling and great read.
My personal takeaways are:
- that well-researched non-fiction can be fabulous and all the more interesting because it happened.
- In war people will be pawns.
- Details are important like knowing how to put your life jacket on properly. Many people lost their lives unnecessarily because of this.
One response to “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania”
A truly historic event, your review is compelling. I love historic non-fiction and also great ‘fiction’ that incorporates historic events with granular detail. Michael Ondaatje comes to mind. In The Skin of a Lion is the story of every newcomer, no matter what century. Probably the most insightful non-fiction I’ve come across in a while, Joan of Arc: A Military Leader, Kelly DeVries. I highly recommend it. In this era of obsessive gender politics, it hits the right note for sure.