Dead Wake (Larson)

Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Erik Larson, 2015
Crown/Archetype
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307408860



Summary
The enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania

With his remarkable new work of nonfiction Dead Wake, Erik Larson ushers us aboard the Lusitania as it begins its tragic and final crossing. It is a timely trip, as 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the disaster.
 
Setting sail on May 1, 1915, from New York, the Lusitania was a monument to the hubris and ingenuity of the age. It was immense and luxurious, the fastest civilian ship then in service, and carried a full roster of passengers, including a record number of infants and children.

The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though that morning a German notice had appeared in the city’s newspapers warning that travelers sailing on British ships "do so at their own risk." Though the notice didn’t name a particular vessel, it was widely interpreted as being aimed at the Lusitania. The idea that a German submarine could sink the ship struck many passengers as preposterous, a sentiment echoed in Cunard’s official response to the warning: "The truth is that the Lusitaniais the safest boat on the sea. She is too fast for any submarine. No German war vessel can get her or near her."
 
German U-boat captain Walther Schwieger—known to rescue dachshund puppies, but to let the crews of torpedoed ships drown—thought differently. Dead Wake switches between hunter and hunted, allowing readers to experience the crossing, and the disaster itself, as it unfolds.

Along the way, Larson paints a portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era, and brings to life a broad cast of characters, including President Woodrow Wilson, awash in grief after the loss of his wife, awakening with the blush of new love; famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat, a passenger carrying an irreplaceable literary treasure; Captain William Thomas Turner, who took the safety of his  passengers very seriously, but secretly thought of them as "bloody monkeys"; and Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, whose ultra-secret spy group failed to convey crucial naval intelligence that might have saved the Lusitania and its passengers.
 
Like his monumental In the Garden of Beasts, the result is a captivating book that is rich in atmosphere. Thrillingly told and full of surprises, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured in the mists of history. (From the publisher.)

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