Author: Erik Larson
Publication Date: March 10, 2015
Source: ARC borrowed from Jen at The Relentless Reader
Summary from Goodreads:
On May 1, 1915, 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 passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
I have a serious question, readers.
Why did I know everything about the sinking of the Titanic (at least, everything as dictated by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), but nearly nothing about the Lusitania until I read this GEM of a book? Because I'm always first to admit that my knowledge of history is lacking, but really. Hollywood has focused on the wrong subject here.
I have been striking it RICH with nonfiction lately, people! And this might be the best one of late. A few years ago, I read Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, and was impressed with his style of narrative nonfiction. What that literary jargon means is that his nonfiction books read with the suspense and vivacity of a fiction novel. All of his works are historically accurate (painstakingly so), but he formats them in a way that makes you feel like you're right in the moment with these historical figures, part of their conversations and triumphs and tragedies.
That absolutely holds true for Dead Wake as well. I was on the edge of my seat while reading this book. Larson outlines the entire week leading up to the Lusitania's sinking (oh yeah, spoiler alert: it gets sunk. By a German submarine), and even though you totally know what's coming, you'll find yourself praying that the darn thing stays afloat. Because you KNOW these passengers. Larson brings you up close and personal with the captain, the crew, the men, women, and (way too many) children on board, even the stowaways. Plus, you get perspectives from the US (as President Wilson deals with some personal romantic issues while all this drama unfolds), the UK (as the British had far more foreknowledge of this attack than you may think), and the German U-boat that actually perpetrated said sinking. This gives you a clear illustration of the complex political forces at work during the attack as well.
In the end, you're left with a detailed, absorbing, and highly emotional account of one of the most devastating and politically-charged passenger boat disasters in history.
I can't say enough good things here. Five stars all the way on this one. Whether you're previously familiar with the Lusitania disaster or not, this is a nonfiction release that is not to be missed.
Ever been on a cruise, reader friends? Did you pay attention during the lifeboat drills? I bet you will after reading this. Also: swimming lessons.