“Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania,” by Erik Larson

I recently had the chance to read Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson. This book was published on March 22, 2016, by Broadway Books.

About this book (from the back cover):

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.

Final Verdict:

Erik Larson’s book Devil in the White City stuck with me in a way that few books have. I was amazed at how his narrative nonfiction style could draw me into a good story while allowing me to learn more about an event in history that had never really crossed my radar. In Dead Wake, while I was more aware of the actual events of the sinking of the Lusitania, I was still equally impressed by Larson’s writing style that really seems to make historical events resonate with the reader. Larson researches his subjects extensively, and when a person in one of his stories says something, the words inside the quotes are actually taken from letters or other records of that person’s words. Larson tells stories by following the lives of the people involved, and in this story that includes both Captain William Thomas Turner and U-boat Captain Walther Schweiger, as well as President Woodrow Wilson, bookseller Charles Lauriat, architect Theodate Pope, and others. This story was gripping, and both my husband (the history nut) and I (the fiction reader) enjoyed it. Highly recommended!

You can find our more about author Erik Larson by visiting his website here.

 If you’d like to check out Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania it is currently on sale for $11.99 for the Kindle version. (Regularly $17.00.) If you prefer a paperback copy, it’s currently on sale for $11.16. Remember, Amazon’s prices can change at any time.
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