Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What-I'm-Reading-Wednesday: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

What really caused the sinking of the Lusitania?  Were the British to blame or the German U-boot commander?  Dead Wake is an excellent read about the last days of the beautiful ocean liner, her passengers from all walks of life, and the part both the British and Germans played in her demise.

As the passengers embarked, there seemed to be little if any worry about the success of the voyage.  The Lusitania was one of the fastest of the Atlantic ships, she would have a British escort when she arrived in British waters near Ireland, and the Germans were too humane to ever think of sinking a passenger ship with Americans on board.

Ten months into World War I, one of the “greyhounds” of the Atlantic left New York for her return voyage to Liverpool.   She left New York with the Imperial German Embassy posting a “Notice!” to travelers on the Atlantic voyage that Germany and Great Britain were at war.  This meant that the waters around Great Britain were a war zone and that any of Great Britain’s allies would be accorded enemy status.

To reduce cost, Cunard ordered the Lusitania to use only ¾ of their power. This decreased speed, and therefore distance covered, thus changing the arrival time to Liverpool. Due to the fluctuation of the tide at Liverpool harbor there were specific times to enter the harbor. 
Rumors abounded that the Lusitania carried weapons and ammunition for the British cause.  What more could come together for a disaster?  As always, the weather played an integral part in the voyage and timing as it also slowed the ship.  The fog was an ally as well since it made it next to impossible for the U-boat (submarine, U-20) to see the ship. 

The reader will learn about the rich and famous on board as well as the other classes and the crew.  The day to day activity on the ship makes for interesting reading.  Larson imparts vital information about the safety drills, demonstration of the life jackets, and the pervading attitude that the ship would reach harbor simply because of its speed and the ‘rules of war” concerning nonmilitary ships.

Larson researched the Lusitania’s sinking well.  He includes information about the British and the best kept secret which left Captain Turner of the Lusitania without vital information to protect his ship and passengers.  Dead Wake gives us an adventure story and a story of war from those in a submarine, in command in Great Britain, and the unsuspecting passengers on a voyage of a lifetime.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is available for check-out in the Ort Library catalog, as are Larson's other works like The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, and Thunderstruck.Click on the "Availability" link on the catalog record, then click on the yellow "Request" button. Log in using your 14-digit Library barcode number (located on your University ID), and your last name. You will then be able to select your pick-up location. The Library will notify you via email when your book has arrived for pick-up. If you need assistance with this process, please contact the Circulation Desk at 301-687-4395.

Blog post written by MaryJo Price

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