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April 27, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead WakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

By: Erik Larson

Without a doubt, a great author can divulge the resolution early in a story, yet hold on to the reader’s attention as suspense builds to the inevitable end.  Author Erik Larson does another masterful job shedding light on one of the greatest maritime tragedies in U.S. history.

Larson, whose popular works have covered events ranging from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to the tragic Galveston Hurricane of 1900, operates best by sharing the fascinating details of tragic historical events so that the narrative reads like fiction.  It’s not surprising that his latest book focuses on the unthinkable 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, the largest ocean liner in the world.  The tragedy led to the death of nearly 1200 people and brought the United States closer to entering the Great War in Europe.

Even though I knew a German U-boat would sink the Lusitania, I was impressed by Larson’s technique, which takes the reader through the moments leading up to the fateful event as he explores the lives of the people on the ship, as well as the soldiers responsible for torpedoing it.  We learn of President Woodrow Wilson’s suicidal thoughts on a visit to New York City while he also finds himself in the middle of a blooming romance with Edith Galt shortly after his wife’s death.  We see a young woman who doesn’t board the ship at the last minute due to troubling voices she hears in a dream the night before.  Perhaps the most shocking detail is that this tragedy could have easily been prevented had a few secrets been revealed, the voyage start had been delayed, or even if the weather patterns had shifted slightly. The many “what ifs” in this story confirm the old adage that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.​


Review By: Brad Howell