Dead in the Water

The Lusitania and World War I. Each in itself are complex and interesting topics to explore. But to see how they intersect is far more intriguing. I have always been interested in studying the history of the World Wars and having grown up with the Great Lakes surrounding me, nautical themes were also of interest. So, needless to say, I was super excited to read Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

Following the narrative non-fiction of Larson’s previous works, we are presented with an account of the events leading up to, during, and following the sinking of the Lusitania from multiple perspectives, which provides a more comprehensive understanding of the events and their effect on the world at large. Alternating from points of view of those aboard the Lusitania, those of President Wilson in Washington and his political counterparts in England and Berlin, those in Room 40, and those aboard the U-boat U-20, the story of the Lusitania and how it played a role in the United States joining the First World War unfolds in a most entertaining, and educational, manner.

Larson is capable of making potentially boring topics entertaining through the manner in which he humanizes the events through the words of those who experienced these things first-hand. Even though I knew how the events resolved, I was still caught up in the tale woven with the hope that the passengers of the Lusitania wouldn’t meet a torpedoed and watery fate. I was quite impressed with the level of detail that was included from all the personal accounts of people aboard the ship.

I was also happy to see the inclusion of the German perspective through the U-20 entries, as it helps to round out the points of view of those involved in the war. I learned more about President Wilson from this book than I did in my history courses, perhaps because he seemed more human and less of a figurehead noted on paper. The range of characters that were presented in the book were vast and each were treated with equal attention and respect, which is pleasantly impressive given the fates that most passengers met on their voyage.

Overall, I’d give it a 5 out of 5 stars.


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