Title: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Author: Erik Larson
Setting: NYC and Atlantic Ocean, May 1915
Story: The RMS Lusitania was one of the top luxury liners of the day, filled with the bright and beautiful (and a bunch of 2nd & 3rd class passengers too.) Millionaires, actors, writers, debutantes and spies all crowded aboard this ship. Besides the passengers, the ship was carrying beautiful paintings by Van Gogh and other masters, editions signed by Dickens and Thackeray, gold bullion, and lots of ammunition. So when it went down, the news traveled fast, and eventually resulted in the United States entering World War I.
Review: I knew a little bit about the Lusitania, but I’d never heard the whole story. I’ve read other books by this author, so when I found this one on audio at the library, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
The numbers are pretty sobering. Out of 1962 passengers and crew, only 764 survived. But what makes it more interesting than the statistics is the way Larson tells the story. By using journals and letters that survived the voyage, he lets you get inside the ship and travel right along with them on their final voyage. I had my favorite people and I was trying not to skip ahead, but I admit that I couldn’t stand it and had to look up who survived and who died.
I have a couple of criticisms about the book though. The first is that he spends all this time talking about President Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Bolling. Wilson’s state of mind and his love life weren’t really relevant to the story. His reluctance to enter the war was relevant and didn’t get enough discussion.
Also, I was left wondering about the passengers who survived. What percentage of them were first class? Did it matter where their cabins were? How many were women and children? Maybe he answered these questions, but since it was on audio, I could have missed that part.
It did definitely get me interested in the story. It was all so sad and so pointless. Why wasn’t the ship more protected? Why hadn’t Wilson done more to help with the war already? I was totally involved in this story. I’m giving it 4.2 stars out of 5.