Review of Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
The term “dead wake” refers to the disturbance left in the water after a passing ship or torpedo. I’m guessing Erik Larson latched on to that phrase as his title as soon as he came across it. It’s a great title.
The actual sinking of this great ocean liner took only eighteen minutes. Those eighteen minutes are described in great detail in the book. The events leading up to the disaster as well as what took place after the ship sank and nearly 1,200 people lost their lives is equally compelling. I never once felt like the author was piling on unnecessary detail.
This event takes place in 1915. There are a number of storylines the author weaves expertly throughout his narrative. There is the ship and its passengers, the captain, and to a lessor extent the crew, the U Boat captain and his crew, and a long list of supporting players who all play a role as the ship and U Boat eventually cross paths on that fateful day.
In some ways the story of the Lusitania is similar to the Titanic tragedy. The two disasters took place only three years apart. And each disaster could have been avoided if only one or two things had played out differently. As for the disaster itself, there were a number of individual stories that stood out. There was the story of a pregnant woman who gave birth in the water. Then there is Larson’s description of the U Boat captain looking through his periscope at what he had just done. He can’t hear the sounds of the screaming passengers, but he can see the ship listing and the frantic actions of those on board as they fight for their lives.
One can argue that the Lusitania had traversed waters that had been deemed in advance a war zone. There is also some truth that the Lusitania was carrying cargo destined for use in the war. But this was a civilian passenger ship. When the U Boat captain first laid eyes on the ship he knew it was not a war ship. But he also knew that it was a very large ship, and U Boat captains were judged on the amount of tonnage they sank. Upon learning of the sinking of the Lusitania, Germany celebrated. The captain was praised and promoted. But justice did prevail. Captain Walther Schwieger would not have to live very long with the memories of that frightful sight he saw through his periscope.
I’ve given this book five stars, but the publisher of the book gets only two stars. I read the Kindle version. First, at $12.99 I feel it was over priced. Worst of all there was only one picture. There is no excuse for publishers to put out eBooks as an afterthought. This book would have been so much better had there been images in context.