Oh man, this book. Erik Larson is a master of creative non-fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed his previous books Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts, even if I found the former overly populist and the latter dry. He manages to navigate the two extremes well in general, and they are exceptionally well balanced in this book.
His skill is here, as always, finding the personal in the impersonal, bringing a richness to stories time has reduced to facts and dates. However, the sinking of the Lucitania is a particularly sad tale to shed light upon, and that’s comparing it to Larson’s books about a serial killer and nazis.
I’ll allow that as a new mom, I’m extra susceptible to anything involving children, but when the book comes to a young mother who realizes she has one child on the deck below her, and another above, I may have had to check the bassinet next to me to get a good look at my boy with a lump in my throat. When she sees the passenger she gave one of the children to on a lifeboat without the baby, I wanted blood.
The details aren’t all devastating. Some are just horrific, as when a survivor is noted to have kept a 22 on his person specifically to shoot seagulls, after they fed on the dead and attacked the living in the water, to the point where rescuers knew where to locate bodies by the vortex of gulls above them.
The book gets five stars from me for having me get to know some of the previously nameless victims and the details of the voyage and passengers before outlining their fates – and fine, some do have happy endings – but damn, Larson. My next book is gonna have to be about happy chipmunks having a picnic or something.