“Like his Devil In The White City, Dead Wake is an incredibly compelling narrative brimming with the strong characters, rich historical detail and the emotional punch that we have come to expect from Erik Larson. This is a story we think we know, but Larson brings us into a world of suspense, intrigue and drama that is guaranteed to delight readers” - Terrance G. Read more...
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“Like his Devil In The White City, Dead Wake is an incredibly compelling narrative brimming with the strong characters, rich historical detail and the emotional punch that we have come to expect from Erik Larson. This is a story we think we know, but Larson brings us into a world of suspense, intrigue and drama that is guaranteed to delight readers” - Terrance G. Finley, President and Chief Executive Officer
From the #1 "New York Times" bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the "Lusitania," published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the disaster
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.
Click Here to Read a Conversation with Erik Larson!
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-01-05
- Reviewer: Staff
With a narrative as smooth as the titular passenger liner, Larson (In the Garden of Beasts) delivers a riveting account of one of the most tragic events of WWI. The fact a German U-boat sank the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland in May 1915 is undisputed, so Larson crafts the story as historical suspense by weaving information about the war and the development of submarine technology with an interesting cast of characters. He expertly builds tension up to the final encounter. An unanticipated sequence of events put the Lusitania in the path of Capt. Walther Schwieger’s U-20, and he didn’t hesitate to open fire. The Lusitania’s captain, the capable and accomplished William Thomas Turner, did everything in his power to avert the catastrophe, but fate intervened, taking the lives of 1,195 passengers and crew members, including 123 Americans. Despite the stunning loss of life, President Woodrow Wilson held firm to American neutrality in the war, at least in 1915. Larson convincingly constructs his case for what happened and why, and by the end, we care about the individual passengers we’ve come to know—a blunt reminder that war is, at its most basic, a matter of life and death. Illus. Agent: David Black, David Black Literary Agency. (Mar.)
The fateful voyage of the 'Lusitania'
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2015
In an interview some years ago, Erik Larson, author of such bestsellers as The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts, called himself “an animator of history” rather than a historian. Indeed, he has always shown a brilliant ability to unearth the telling details of a story and has the narrative chops to bring a historical moment vividly alive. But in his new book, Larson simply outdoes himself.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania tells in riveting fashion the story of the final voyage of the top-of-the-line British passenger ship, which sailed from New York City on May 1, 1915, and was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland six days later. The magnificent ship went down in only 18 minutes. Of its 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived. Among the dead were 123 Americans, and the sinking of the Lusitania is often cited as the reason President Wilson dropped his vow of neutrality and led America into World War I.
But the U.S. entry into the war was more complicated. Larson gets at this complexity by presenting a portrait of Wilson in emotional tumult after the sudden death of his first wife and the dawn of a romance with the woman who would become his second wife. Also contributing to the complexity of international relations were the ruthless actions of the Germans and the machinations of the British Admiralty, headed by Winston Churchill, which in a top-secret effort had cracked German codes and was tracking the U-boat that ultimately sank the Lusitania, but inexplicably did nothing to prevent it.
These are the realpolitik aspects of the story Larson weaves in alternating chapters. But what is most compelling about Dead Wake is that, through astonishing research, Larson gives us a strong sense of the individuals—passengers and crew—aboard the Lusitania, heightening our sense of anxiety as we realize that some of the people we have come to know will go down with the ship.
A story full of ironies and “what-ifs,” Dead Wake is a tour de force of narrative history.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Larson about Dead Wake.