Dead wake : the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

by on May 7th, 2015
Dead wake : the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson Cover Image

Erik Larson knows how to tell a story. In The Devil in the White City, he masterfully intertwines the story of the 1893 World’s Fair with that of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who thrived in the growing city of Chicago. In the Garden of Beasts follows the diplomatically unexperienced William Dodd, a professor assigned to the post of American Ambassador to Germany as the National Socialist Party rose to power. Larson’s latest book, Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania is another fascinating story told well.

There are many ways to tell this one. There’s the conspiracy angle. Did Britain let the Lusitania come along a German submarine because it believed this type of sinking would push the United States to enter World War I? There’s the negligence angle. Did Captain Turner ignore crucial information about active submarines off the Irish coast and not respond appropriately to the threat? Larson’s angle is that this story is about people. He makes individuals’ experience come alive on the page, whether it is the Lusitania’s passengers, U-20’s Captain Schweiger, or President Wilson in his courtship with Edith Bolling Galt. All of these stories are expertly woven to create a compelling and tense narrative that was hard to put down but just as hard to read. The Lusitania’s sinking was a terrible event. It sank it eighteen minutes. Almost two thousand people perished. As I began to know more and more about these individuals, the weight of their fate became heavier and heavier.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Lusitania’s sinking.

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