Monday, May 2, 2016

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake is another excellent historical research nonfiction novel by Erik Larson, published 2015 by Crown Publishers, 353 pages, 6 pages of Acknowledgements, 50 pages of Notes, 8 pages of Bibliography and the Index  all together to offer a complete story of the sinking of the Lusitania.  This is the 3rd novel  of Larson's I have read and enjoyed.  This relates the voyage of the commercial Cunard cruise ship, Lucy aka Lusitania, torpedoed and sunk by a German U20 boat near the end of its sailing across the Atlantic from New York  to Liverpool.  The sinking of this ship, death of the American passengers including some who were very prominent precipitated the entry of the United States in WWI.   May  7, 1915 making good their threat to sink commercial liners as well as military, the Germans stepped up U-2 boats off the coastal waters surrounding England. Captain Walther Schwieger of the Unterseeboot-20 aka U-20, submarine was responsible for the disaster.  As stated on the inside cover flap, " an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce of the the great disasters of history." Of the 1959 passengers there were 189 Americans.  

With all the historical information, the author does an excellent job introducing characters such as Captain Turner of the Lusitania, the German Captain  Schwieger, and many passengers and President Woodrow Wilson.  There is intrigue about the British Room 40, the secret decoders a system which was kept fully secret.  I had thought and recalled that the sinking of the Lusitania immediately drove President Wilson to enter WWI when actually the US did not enter the war for another two years. 

Erik Larson, author
I absolutely enjoyed reading this and learned a lot about the era, the technical aspects of the German submarines and President Woodrow Wilson. I felt sorry for Captain Turner being made the scapegoat by the Cunard line and the British Admirality. Pg. 355, Acknowledgements by the author:" What especially drew me was the rich array of materials available to help tell the story in as vivid a manner as possible, --such archival treasures  as telegrams, intercepted wireless messages, survivor depositions, secret intelligence ledgers, Kapitanleutnant Schwieger's actual war log, Edith Galt's love letters and even a film of the Lusitania's final departure from New York.  .....Finding these things was half the fun.  Every book is an expedition into unfamiliar realms, with both an intellectual and a physical component..  The intellectual journey takes you deep into a subject, to the point where you achieve a level of expertise...."  

Near the end  page 326 takes the reader down the lane of "what ifs", "if only ....Captain Turner had not had to wit the extra two hours for the transfer of passengers from the Cameronia he likely would have passed Schwieger in the fog, when the U-20 was submerged and on its way home.  ...More importantly had Turner not been compelled to shut down the fourth boiler room....." 

I give this the full 5*****.  Another excellent example of why historical nonfiction, properly researched and presented by a good author is my preference in reading.