Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Subtitle: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Published: 2015

Genre: historical nonfiction

Length: 353 pages of story, 430 pages total

Setting: 1915, mostly on the Lusitania, but also on the U-20, and in London and Washington, D.C.

Interest: I saw the book reviewed and highly recommended in two places I trust in short succession. I decided it was worth putting on my reading list. I was in the mood for some nonfiction, this was in the new book section at the library, so I picked it up.

Summary: We follow the events of the last voyage of the Lusitania, as gleaned from letters and diaries of people on board the ship. The ship scenes are interspersed with bits from the submarine that torpedoed her, U-20. We also jump between events in Washington, D. C., where President Wilson was trying to keep the U.S. out of war and was falling in love, and London, where Room 40 had more information about German activity than they were letting on. The Lusitania had a quiet Atlantic crossing, and an unlucky series of events allowed her to be torpedoed. At least the seas were calm so more people could be rescued, although a majority of the occupants died. Even with the sinking of the Lusitania, it took the Zimmerman telegram to bring the U.S. into the war.

Final thoughts: An interesting time in history and another example of how technology changed war faster than people could adapt. Everyone was used to ships being taken by the enemy, boarded, and then the people were ransomed. you couldn’t do that when a submarine attacked (they didn’t have enough crew), but the Allies were horrified when submarines just tried to sink the ship.

The book is a bit of a slow burn. You know where it’s going, and you’re just waiting for it to happen. Therefore, the beginning of the book is just a waiting game. Larson gives you details on some people’s lives and activities on the ship you care a bit more when the ship is sunk and most people are in the water. I had thought the sinking of the Lusitania propelled the U.S. into the war, but Wilson didn’t find that to be a big enough provocation, in and of itself. Interesting to learn about that time period, but from the war perspective and the cultural perspective (so many articles of clothing went into an outfit for a day’s walk around the ship).

Title comes from: Dead wake is a nautical term that refers to the dying wake of some disturbance (like a torpedo in the water).

Reading challenges fulfilled: an L in my author Reading the Alphabet Challenge and #10 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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