Dead Wake by Eric Larson
Rating: 5 out of 5 magical coffee cups
This was my first Eric Larson book and I throughly enjoyed every bit of information.
I decided to give this a chance because I heard someone refer to this book as narrative nonfiction, and that fits this so well. I honestly loved the information in this book. I feared that I would be overwhelmed with all the facts, but I ended up loving the stories. The information brought the sinking of the Lusitania to life for me by introducing me to many of the passengers and others involved. No longer was this just a story about a ship that sank, it was about the lives surrounding it as well.
Larson used telegrams, intercepted wireless messages, survivor depositions, secret intelligence ledgers, Kapitänleutnant Schwieger’s (commander of the U-boat the sank the Lusitania) actual war log, Edith Galt’s love letters (second wife of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson), and even a film of the Lusitania’s final departure from New York.
I had asked around before I read the book to see what my family and friends knew about the Lusitania and at the most people said “that boat that was bombed by Germany?” A lot of people knew that the ship went down but they didn’t know anything about the people involved or how/why the ship went down. There was so much leading up to this! I knew the ship went down but as I read this book there were so many times that I thought to myself “this could have been avoided if …”
Like I said, I knew very little about the Lusitania before reading this book but I think that just about everyone will learn something, even history buffs. I feel like I learned a little about everyone connected to the sinking of the Lusitania. I learned about passengers reasons for traveling and about their lives before and after the sinking. There were stories about crew members of the Lusitania including the captain as well as the crew of the uboat that fired on the Lusitania. President Wilson’s personal life is also addressed, I never knew he was going through so much during this time.
Some fun little facts from the book that I enjoyed:
- “By far the most glamorous passenger was Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt”, he was on board with his valet. “Vanderbilt paid for both tickets in cash, $1,001.50, equivalent to over $22,000 in today’s dollars.”
- I learned where the title “Dead Wake” came from. “The track lingered on the surface like a long pale scar. In maritime vernacular, this trail of fading disturbance, whether from ship or torpedo, was called a ‘dead wake'”.
- Rescuers said that wherever they saw seagulls, they knew that they would find bodies in the water. The captain of the Lusitania, Captain Turner, was left with a deep hatred of seagulls. “Until his retirement he used to carry a .22 rifle and shoot every seagull he could”.
- Meals became important on the ship as the “shipboard tedium began to set in”. Here is a list of ONE SINGLE DINNER: “Halibut in sauce Orleans, mignons de sole souchet, and broiled sea bass choron (a sauce of white wine, shallots, tarragon, tomato paste, and eggs); veal cutlets, tournedos of beef Bordelaise, baked Virginia ham, saddle of mutton, roast teal duck, celery-fed duckling, roast guinea chicken, sirloin and ribs of beef; and five desserts- Tyrollean soufflé, chocolate cake, apple tart, Bavaroise au citron, and ice cream, two kinds; strawberry and Neapolitan.”
I could easily list so many more things but I really think you should just give this book a chance. There was so much information but it was great. I spent so much time telling people about the facts that I learned. I highly recommend this book.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.