Monday, July 27, 2015

495 (2015 #52). Dead Wake

by Erik Larson,
read by Scott Brick

Subtitled "The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," this book is about the ship's sinking, what led up to it, and the immediate aftermath.  Erik Larson once again takes real people and events and weaves a mesmerizing story.
In this case, he alternates between action on the ship; in Washington, DC (showing how the death of President Wilson's first wife and his subsequent wooing of Edith Galt may have distracted him); the U-20 German submarine that ultimately sunk Lusitania; "Room 40," the secret code-breaking office of the British Admirality - which had been tracking U-20 and other German submarines via their wireless transmissions; and Queenstown, London, Berlin, and the Irish Sea.  Most of the action takes place during the final voyage, between the Lusitania's departure from New York City on May 1, 1915, to its sinking in the Irish Sea on May 7.  The sinking ultimately led to the entry of the United States into World War I, albeit two years later.

The origin of the title is the maritime definition of "dead wake" — a "trail of fading disturbance" (page 241) left behind on the surface of the water by a passing ship or another object, like a torpedo.

The book has a few short preface notes to readers/listeners, where Larson reminds the reader that

I thought I knew everything there was to know about the incident, but, as so often happens when I do deep research on a subject, I quickly realized how wrong I was.  Above all, I discovered that buried in the muddled details of the affair - deliberately muddled, in certain aspects - was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.
I hasten to add, as always, that this is a work of nonfiction.  Anything between quotation marks comes from a memoir, letter, telegram, or other historical document.  My goal was to try to marshal the many nodes of real-life suspense and, yes, romance that marked the Lusitania episode, in a manner that would allow readers to experience it as did people who lived through it at the time....
Of course audiobook listeners can't see those quotation marks, but Scott Brick's excellent reading makes it pretty clear where they are.  I'd recommend, though, that anyone listening to the audio do as I did and take a look at the print or e-book as well.

The audiobook doesn't include the material at the end of the print edition: a "sources and acknowledgements" section (five pages), 50 pages of end notes, an 8-page bibliography, and a 12-page index.  Oddly, there is only one photograph and a couple maps in the print book.  I felt the need for more, so I borrowed another library book with many photos on the subject:  Robert Ballard's Exploring the Lusitania, the subject of my next review.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was a gift from BOT (Books on Tape) at the Texas Library Association conference in April 2015.  It will be donated to my university library.  It is also available in print, e-book, and e-audiobook format from the Hood County Library.]

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