Day 702: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Cover for Dead WakeIn Dead Wake, Erik Larson has written another fascinating history—the story of the last voyage of the Lusitania. As he sometimes does, Larson goes after the story with a two-pronged approach: on the one hand following preparations for the voyage and the actual trip, on the other hand following the progress of the U-20, the German U-boat that sank it. In this book, the story has a third, weaker prong—the romance of President Woodrow Wilson with Edith Bolling Galt, who would become his second wife.

Even though everyone reading the book knows what will happen to the Lusitania, a passenger ship en route to England from the United States during World War I, Larson manages to create a fair amount of suspense. He tells us about a number of the passengers, and we want to know who survives, of course. I think this ability of Larson’s to create suspense even from a story where we know the outcome is quite a talent.

Aside from learning about the ship, the voyage, and the results of the attack, we also learn about things that are more surprising. In particular, Larson leads us to wonder whether the British admiralty was incompetent or whether the hope that some event like this would force the Americans into the war made them negligent. There were several actions the admiralty could have taken to keep the ship safer.

I recently read an article about the man who bought the wreckage of the Lusitania, who believes that the ship secretly carried armament meant for England. It is true that there was an unexplained second explosion after the U-boat’s torpedo hit the ship, but if the theory turns out to be correct, that makes the British admiralty’s conduct even more perplexing.

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4 thoughts on “Day 702: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

  1. Naomi May 13, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    I wonder why he spent so much time on Woodrow Wilson’s romantic life. Was it to show us that he might not have been paying as much attention to world events as he might have?
    I thought the amount of research and detail was quite amazing, as well as the build up of suspense. I truly found myself thinking that maybe the ship could be saved after all – after all these years. Ha!
    So, now that you’ve read it, how do you think it compares with his others?

    • whatmeread May 13, 2015 / 2:23 pm

      You know, I’m not sure. I thought it was the weakest part of the book and didn’t really hook into the subject very well, whereas with other books when he has taken two seemingly unrelated subjects, the link has been clear. Of all of his books, this is not my favorite. I think I liked The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck best. Isaac’s Storm was also very good. The last two haven’t been my favorites, for sure, although they’ve both been good.

  2. Emily J. May 13, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    I really want to read this one. I have become a huge fan of Larson’s over the last year, and this is just another treat waiting for me!

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