Thursday, February 11, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Dead Wake. The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

My history/historical fiction book group is meeting this weekend. Our choice was Dead Wake by Erik Larson. I’ve been curious to read this author so I was pleased with the pick.

Dead Wake is the story of the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915 by a German U-boat. Meticulously researched and reported in an organized, detailed fashion, the book sets the tragedy in historical context. By switching focus between the captains of the ship and the U-boat, interspersed with personal stories of passengers (survivors and victims), the narrative is humanized. Larson provides a good deal of backstory, yet the pace doesn’t lag. The sense of impending doom hangs over the first parts and, when the torpedo does hit the boat, the account is riveting and horrifying.

Much of the subtext of the story is exploring how much British Intelligence knew and, ultimately, how complicit they were in allowing the Germans to fire upon this enormous, celebrity ocean liner. The British were growing desperate for American intervention in the war. It would seem they possessed the means to prevent the deaths of more than 1000 civilians, but instead left things to chance–or even deliberately helped increase the likelihood of attack.

The more I read about WWI, the better I understand the enormity of the tragedy. Dead Wake presents yet another piece of the story and demonstrates again the evils of war.

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