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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (audio)

This is a book I've owned for several years, however, I finally figured I was unlikely to ever get around to reading it, so I got the audio.

I love history books, especially ones that explain things I've never understood. Just as I still don't really understand how the assassination in Sarajevo started WWI, I also never understood why the sinking of the Lusitania was cause for the United States to join the war. Basically, it was the blatant disregard for the fact that it was a passenger ship, not a military ship, that although British, was carrying a lot of Americans, and the Germans knew that, so it felt like it was a middle finger to America and basically a way to force them in from public outcry. And that's precisely what happened.

Thanks to the sinking of the Titanic a year or so earlier, the Lusitania did have enough life boats. But they overcorrected and got new fancy life jackets which no one knew how to put on (they were complicated) and many bodies were found in a life jacket, floating upside down. The only drills that were done were for staff only, not for passengers. And the worst thing was that just before this happened, the Germans had torpedoed a military ship, and then waited and torpedoed the two other ships that came to the rescue of the first ship. Therefore, the new policy was not to come to the rescue of a torpedoed ship as it might be a trap. Also the captain got varied and conflicting direction about evasive maneuvers and timing. And he was sailing short-handed with an inexperienced crew, and all experienced seamen were conscripted into the navy. The really sad thing was that the boat was not traveling anywhere near at her full speed, despite being the fastest commercial ship in existence, because the company wanted to save money on fuel. If that directive hadn't been given, it would very likely have not been torpedoed.

But then, if the US hadn't entered the war, if might have lasted much longer and more soldiers would have been killed. So maybe in the long run, it was actually for the best? Feels creepy to talk about human lives that way but at times it's true that a small loss of life can forestall a larger one.

The book was clear, in-depth, gave real human faces to the tragedy (including to President Wilson who was courting the woman he would marry after his first wife's death), and thoroughly explained how the ship and the U-boat ended up there at that moment, and why this led to the Americans entering the war. Excellent armchair history.

I borrowed this eaudiobook via Overdrive through my library.

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