Friday Non-Fic Pick: Dead Wake

91JMtxRBVTLLast week in my review of The Glass Ocean, I mentioned also reading Dead Wake, but then realized that I never shared a review outside the world of Goodreads. So without further ado, here is this Friday’s recommended non-fiction read.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Historical Non-Fiction (World War I)

From the Author: On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship – the fastest then in service – could outrun any threat. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small – hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. 

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

My Take: It is my opinion that few authors are able to write truly spectacular nonfiction. It is a challenging goal to lay down a set of (mostly) unbiased facts within an intriguing story. Harder still is the ability to form those facts as a fictional writer would in order to leave the reader feeling a personal attachment with the characters. It is difficult, but Erik Larson has accomplished it.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is much more than an account of one ship’s sinking in May of 1915. It encompasses the world before, during, and after the ship, creating an intricate tale of political plots, military tactics, and ordinary lives come to life on paper. A multitude of subplots are represented from every viewpoint including: Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger of Unterseeboot (U-boat) 20, Britain’s top secret Room 40, officials of the Cunard Line, American President Woodrow Wilson, and multitudes of the Lusitania’s passengers. The detail is absolutely astounding. Drawing from a number of sources including letters, diaries, news articles, transcripts, and autopsy reports, the author immerses the reader in an incredible retelling of the World War I era. Descriptions of nautical engineering, intimate romances and family relationships, political subplots and outrageous warfare. What they ate, what they wore, who was doing what when – who lived, who died, and how – it’s all included. This was, far and away, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Recommendations of the highest regard!

For more information visit: http://eriklarsonbooks.com/

Review text copyright 2017 Kelsey Gietl

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