“She seemed as large as a mountain. She had four funnels and tremendous length and, knowing that she could really move along, we were quite thrilled at the thought of traveling on her.” – Letter by Leslie Morton, crewmember on the Lusitania
Those words were echoed by passengers and crew alike who were on the doomed ship, the Lusitania. Many were eager to board the luxurious liner bound for Liverpool, but would never make it to their destination. Erik Larson’s informative and captivating book on the events leading up to, during and after the ship’s sinking describes how secrecy and hubris led to a tragedy of epic proportions.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania reads almost like a fiction novel, even though you know up front that it is not. Larson, using personal letters, journals and newspaper articles, deftly sets up the story of the ship’s sinking, beginning with insight into Captain William Thomas Turner and Kapitänleutnant Walther Schweiger. Turner, captain of the Lusitania and Swcheiger, commander of the U-20 submarine that sank it, were described in detail so readers would see them as more than what they were. Both were dutiful to their jobs and crew, followed the rules and did whatever was necessary to run a tight ship.
Larson did a wonderful job of bringing passengers of the Lusitania to life, particularly during the time of the disaster. Passengers such as Alfred Vanderbilt, Elbert Hubbard, Charles Frohman and Theodate Pope were some of the unlucky and more famous souls on the ship. But there were also families, like the Cromptons, who came on board with their six children. And men like Dwight Harris, who wanted nothing more than to marry his sweetheart. And young boys like Robert Kay, who was struck with measles on the voyage and had to be confined down below with his mother. These were real people and Larson paid them homage by giving us a glimpse into what they were like
Dead Wake also brought to light a secret operation in London called Room 40, which was responsible for receiving and deciphering countless coded German messages in order to defeat Germany’s threat of its U-boats. The information gleaned by Room 40’s staff was invaluable, giving insight not only into Germany’s routes for its ships and U-boats, but also the submariners who were captured.
There were a few times when reading Dead Wake that I felt like the writing was a bit stalled in order to fill pages. But luckily, that wasn’t often, as Larson kept up the book’s pace, making this a sad, infuriating and very interesting read. I highly recommend it.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.