Friday, September 18, 2015

Dead Wake

by Erik Larson

After having tackled the beginning of WWII in a previous novel, Larson goes further back in time to take on the start of WWI and the sinking of the Lusitania. In 1915, a German U Boat fired a torpedo at the Cunard Cruise ship, sinking it in less than 20 minutes. The bulk of this book introduces readers to the captain, crew and passengers of the Lusitania, as well as taking an inside look at the German officers on board the U-20 submarine that took her out.

For the most part, Larson tried to present an engaging history as he related the thoughts and moods of Lusitania's Captain Turner as well as of the many passengers who boarded the boat and subsequently lost their lives. He also dedicated significant space to the German Captain Schwieger's perspective, and the atmosphere of the US, Britain and Germany at the time of the attack. While this information was perhaps interesting, it was not a new or fresh perspective. Overall, I think he spread his net too wide in trying to mention the names and details of too many people. Then on top of that, he went into great detail with lists and descriptions of passenger baggage and content. Adding in a side story of Woodrow Wilson, the loss of his wife and his subsequent courtship of Edith Bolling completely distracted from the ship story.

This was not Larson at his best, I much prefered The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts, the other books I've read by him. If you are a history buff, you might enjoy this account, but general interest readers may find it slow paced and resembling more of a history textbook than an historical account. 

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