Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson
Broadway Books, 2016. 480 pages. Nonfiction.
Eerily similar to the story of the Titanic, this is an action-packed account of the sinking of a luxury cruise liner during WWI. Its doomed voyage began in New York in May 1915, and ended just off the coast of Ireland – torpedoed by a German U-boat. This compelling story not only dives into the personal lives of some of the most famous, rich passengers, but also educates the reader about submarine warfare, the circumstances during WWI that led up to the attack, and the distracting love affair that President Woodrow Wilson was pursuing while the ship’s captain was kept mostly ignorant of the direct and imminent danger to the civilians aboard the ship. Though we are informed at the beginning of the book that 12,000 people died on this journey, we are filled with a sense of foreboding and dread as we read about the passengers and crew, the chain of command in the U. S. armed forces, and the miscommunications that led to this horrific event; we care about the lives that Erik Larson describes through personal letters and news articles, and we hope that the inevitable really won’t happen after all.
Erik Larson’s research on every detail of the voyage and the associated historical events is thorough and accessible – even down to the grisly details of how individuals died, and where their bodies ended up. He narrates the story in such an engaging way, that it’s best to read it on a weekend when you can read through the night and not have to wake up early the next day.
I heartily recommend this book for adults, though not for the squeamish, nor for those who are planning to embark on a cruise anytime soon.