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Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

by on August 31st, 2015
Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Cover Image

Erik Larson, best-selling author of In the Garden of Beasts and The Devil in the White City, has written a new book of narrative non-fiction about the luxury ocean liner sunk by a German U-boat in May, 1915, off the coast of Ireland.  I knew a lot about the sinking of the Titanic, but realized that I really didn’t know that much about the Lusitania.  Larson’s unfolding of the maritime disaster that took 1195 lives at the beginning of World War I is chronological and from various points of view.  He draws on primary sources such as letters, log books, memoirs, telegrams and other documents to present a very detailed account of the fastest liner then in service and its captain, William Thomas Turner.  We also learn about the calculating German captain of Unterseeboot-20, Walther Schwieger, who gave the order to fire a torpedo at the Lusitania that ultimately caused such a devastating tragedy.  The ship left New York for it’s home port of Liverpool with many famous people aboard and the captain never imagined the danger that lay ahead.  The passengers heard about traveling through a war zone near England, but they made light of it as they enjoyed their first class passage on such a magnificent cruise liner.  We learn the stories about passengers such as Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat, female architect Theodate Pope Riddle, and suffragette Margaret Mackworth.  Larson also writes about such figures as President Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, and Kaiser Wilhelm and their roles during this critical time in history.  What I found most interesting were the stories of the people involved in the catastrophe; what I found tedious were the parts of the text that discussed submarine technology and other maritime facts that slowed the narrative down for me.  So many factors played a part in this epic tragedy that you close the book wondering, “What if…?”  Enjoy this 100th–anniversary chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania.

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