Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: Dead Wake

Sometimes you have to take alternate measures to rise in the hold list for particularly popular recent releases. This book has a tremendous hold line at our local library, but I was able to secure it within a few weeks because I requested the large print version. Sadly, I thought I could take off my reading glasses to read it, since the letters looked gargantuan. Alas, not so! I still needed them, which simply proves I am losing my eyesight in ways which terrify me (the thought of being unable to read - yikes).

Dead Wake is another historical treatise by Erik Larson (author of The Devil in the White City, which I loved), this time focusing on the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I. Larson skillfully weaves dual stories of the submarine responsible for the attack and the passengers aboard the Lusitania as they converge in one disastrous moment in history. It does seem horrid that a German submarine captain would sink so low as to strike a commercial vessel, but, in war, horrid things happen. Larson details the many factors which could have led to a different outcome, while supporting the dialogue with words and phrases taken directly from historical documents from various passengers. Part of the story focuses on the president of the United States and his particular emotional state during this time of war. Up until the sinking of the Lusitania, America remained neutral in regards to the war. These events called into question whether that neutrality should or would be maintained after the loss of these American lives ("Of the Lusitania's 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived").

I found the story fascinating. It was one of those tragedies where you just cannot look away, but wish to absorb all the grim details in their entirety. I recognized anew my limited understanding of the dimensions of World War I. It is a subject which must, by nature of being further back in history, lose out to the numerous historical works dealing with World War II. Larson is a master at taking historical facts and blending them expertly to read like fiction. Regardless of whether you are drawn to learning more about this particular war, this story is engaging and well-executed.

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