Since 2012 I have read one Erik Larson narrative history a year. I only have one to go so I spread them out to savor. He writes some of the most compelling nonfiction out there, and whenever there’s a new one it’s just a treat! I’ve read Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts (my favorite so far) and Isaac’s Storm. I added Dead Wake to my library holds in January, two months before it came out. Yes, I was first in line! And it was totally worth it!
Dead Wake is the telling of the final crossing of the Lusitania from New York to Liverpool in May 1915. Europe has been at war for almost a year, and the United States is remaining staunchly neutral. The Lusitania is a passenger ship carrying mostly human cargo, with an especially large number of women and children. The Germans are working on perfecting their new techniques of naval warfare with their U-Boats. What ends up occurring is sad, tragic a symbol of the Great War and the changing of the times from the last “old fashioned war” to what is now considered modern warfare.
Larson tells the story from many points of view: the captain of the Lusitania, the captain of U-20 who was the one to actually sink the ship, many of the passengers, Woodrow Wilson representing the general American view at the time, and the British Admiralty run by Winston Churchill. Sometimes having so many different points of view were overwhelming, but I understood Larson’s point of trying to explain all of the events that had to come together just so in order to have this horrific event occur.
My favorite parts were the descriptions of the history of the U-Boats and how naval warfare was conducted at the time. At my current job I know a lot about what we are doing these days, but this was back before sonar, and to get in a submarine at that time took more courage than I can imagine.
Overall it was another excellent telling of an important event in history. I highly recommend for all the buffs out there, and for those who just want to learn something more. And Mr. Larson? Please have you’re next book out by 2017! I’m running out of great stories to read!