I have been a fan of Erik Larson’s writing since Isaac’s Storm. It amazed me that the guy could make weather interesting. Not all of his books have had the same impact on me; I couldn’t even make it through Thunderstruck. I have since heard that others had trouble with the snails pace of the first two-thirds of the book and that the last part is quite thrilling. Perhaps I should give it a go. For me, though, with Dead Wake he is back in true form.
He tells the story of the Lusitania’s last voyage, from New York to Britain, in May of 1915. Such a ship took a lot of effort and timing to prepare it for voyage and as Mr. Larson describes these things down to the last detail, he begins fleshing out who is on board, not the least of which is Captain Turner. The narrative then switches back and forth between the Lusitania and the German u-boat U-20, commanded by Ltk. Schweiger, which eventually torpedoed and sunk the ship on May 7th, off the coast off Ireland. Like Larson, I vaguely had the impression that the sinking of this ship was what precipitated President Wilson’s decision for the US to enter WWI. It was in fact nearly two full years afterwards. This book covers a little of the politicking involved on all sides but not so much as to drag down the pace of the book. His writing is clear, packed with anecdotes and sometimes beautiful.
“Prichard’s body was never recovered, yet the red volume that now contains the beautifully archived replies to Mrs. Prichards letters there exists a surprisingly vivd sense of him, as though he resided still in the peripheral vision of the world.”
I can tell he’s done a hellacious amount of research but it never feels like he’s just listing facts and figures, the characters and story really come to life. A moving, clear-eyed account.