A few years ago, my oldest son developed an obsession with the Titanic and the Lusitania. We read stacks of children’s books on the Titanic and watched hours of television about both ships. He drew pictures of them, he designed models of them in Minecraft, and he recited Titanic and Lusitania trivia. When my husband and I took a British Isles cruise, our ship stopped at Southampton, Cobh (Queenstown), Belfast, and Liverpool. These cities are associated with both ships and we promised to visit any relevant locations and take pictures. This resulted in one particular endless trek around Southampton looking for the Titanic memorial that lead me straight to bar afterwards.
Since then, my son left behind his Titanic and Lusitania obsession for basketball. My obsession with the Lusitania is just now beginning. Six years ago, I saw the graves where her passengers were buried, and I stood on the shore near Kinsale gazing at the sea where she was torpedoed by a German U-boat. But I didn’t understand the significance until I read Dead Wake.
Larson weaves together the stories of a diverse cast of characters within the larger narrative of the Lusitania’s sinking. We experience the tragedy through various passengers and crew, the captains of both the Lusitania and the German U-boat, American President Woodrow Wilson, and British intelligence officers, including Winston Churchill. In turn, Larson explains the sinking in the context of World War I. All of this is achieved seamlessly. The book flows well, with an overwhelming feeling of foreboding that grows until the torpedo crashes into the hull of the ship. The aftermath is heartbreaking.
At the beginning of the book, I found the narrator’s voice slightly irritating. But, by the end, I thought it was perfect. He captured the drama, terror, and sadness without being over the top.
This quality left me quite spellbound while listening to the last third of the book.
I haven’t read any other books on the Lusitania (yet!), but I cannot imagine one more involving than Dead Wake. Even if you are not a history buff and even if you don’t like WWI or WWII books, I still highly recommend this book. Truth is often the best story, and this is no exception.
Book: Dead Wake
Author: Erik Larson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Date Published: March 10, 2015
Narrator: Scott Brick
Source: Audible (my own collection)