Monday, May 11, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

by Erik Larson
430 pgs

On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was sunk 11 miles off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine. Only one torpedo was needed to sink the ship, the largest and fastest passenger steamer of its era, and those on board had a mere 18 minutes before the ship was completely submerged. In all, 1,191 of its 1,962 passengers and crewmembers were killed, including approximately 130 U.S. citizens. It was an attack that played a major role in ending the United States' position of neutrality before it became involved in World War I. 

Erik Larson provides a fascinating history of the ship, its passengers and crewmembers, as well as a detailed account of its final voyage from New York to Liverpool, England--its intended destination. His account highlights the myriad of decisions and factors that played a key role in the ship's demise, including: the design of the ship, the decision to set sail just days after the German's had issued a warning that passenger ships were considered "fair game" for their submarines, the decision by the British government not to provide a military escort for the ship once it approached waters known to be patrolled by German U-boats, and the decisions made by the ship's captain that ultimately put the Lusitania in the exact spot it was in when the U-boat's captain raised its periscope and saw her. Larson highlights the fact that if any one of those factors or decisions had been different, the Lusitania probably would have made it to Liverpool unscathed, and the U.S. might not have ever entered the war.

Larson has written other historical books, including his bestseller The Devil in the White City, but Dead Wake is the first I've read. Based on how good Dead Wake was, I'm more excited than ever to read his others.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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