Monday, March 20, 2017

Book review: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord


My library has this book listed as a YA but I'm not sure why exactly. There's no YA angle, it's not written in a simplistic way. I think it's just because, as an older title the language is a less complicated than an adult book of today might be, and that it's short.

But this book is the definitive account of the sinking of the Titanic. It was published in 1955, when some of the survivors were still alive. The author interviewed around 60 of them. He breaks down the sinking minute by minute, and you see it from multiple perspectives. He really did his homework, even trying to find out what happened to the steerage passengers and to the staff of the ship. The restaurant staff was particularly hard to track down as only one survived, they weren't considered real staff (they were contracted out) or passengers, The obvious big problem was not enough boats, although as fast as the ship was sinking, they were still trying to free the last two collapsible boats when the ship went down (they were freed and people were saved by them--one half collapsed and the other upside down.) The not-obvious bigger problem was a ship only 10 miles away ignored the first distress calls, then shut their telegraph down for the night. They saw the Morse code lights (and tried to signal back unsuccessfully) and they pondered the meaning behind the 10 rockets the ship set off without actually doing a single thing to find out more or look into the distress calls. The Carpathian that did rescue everyone was 50 miles away. The Californian could have gotten to the ship within minutes of its sinking if they had responded to the first distress call, saving hundreds of additional lives.

The action moves along very fast. The descriptions are rich with detail, and the research was super-thorough. I do hate that all of the women are referred to as "Mrs. John James Astor" although that is accurate to the time the ship went down, and was still quite common in formal language at the time of the writing. And it is confusing in the end when he is talking about the aftereffects of the trauma on people decades later, and many of the women's names seem to have 100% changed due to them getting married. But that is a small detail. This is a riveting read.

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

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