I received a copy of Erik Larson’s "Dead Wake" over Christmas and devoured it in three days. Larson is a terrific storyteller with a detective's eye for detail. Though I knew the outcome I was drawn in as the tragedy unfolded hour by hour. If history books read like Larson's works of what is called “Narrative Non-Fiction” there might be fewer blank stares when passersby are quizzed about such seminal events. Larson has done his part by capturing readers with his words. Weaving parallel events, cameos by Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill, along with strands from passengers’ lives helps set the scene. Larson’s readers will learn more than they ever knew about WWI U-boats, Cunard's liners, and the bureaucratic fumbling by Britain's Admiralty that gave life to dark conspiracy theories.
“It is my goal,” said Larson, “to create a historical experience with my books. My dream, my ideal, is that someone picks up a book of mine, starts reading it, and just lets themselves sink into the past and then reads the thing straight through, and emerges at the end feeling as though they’ve lived in another world entirely.” Larson, one reviewer wrote, “Has proved adept at rescuing weird and wonderful gothic tales from the shadows of history.”
On May 7, 1915, the 787-foot Lusitania, Liverpool-bound, was intercepted by the U-20, off Ireland’s coast and hit by a single torpedo. The great liner went down 18 minutes later. Among the nearly 1,200 people who died were 128 Americans. Two years later, America entered The Great War.
At 2:30 in the morning, as I sat by the fire finishing “Dead Wake,” I felt it might be prudent to go to my bedroom and put on my lifejacket as the end in a frigid Irish Sea neared for the Lusitania. Fascinating.