Dead Wake by Erik Larson

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Dead Wake is the story of the Lusitania, a British passenger ship that was sunk by a German submarine during World War I. As the Lusitania made its last voyage, the US was still trying to remain neutral in the war, but when the ship was torpedoed, without warning, with 189 Americans on board, it was a clear sign that Germany would not be abiding by any sort of rules of decency that had previously been expected of them. It would be the beginning of a series of events that would eventually compel the US to take sides and enter the war.

As with all of Larson’s books, this was not simply the story of the Lusitania, but encompassed the whole history surrounding the incident. Picking up the book, I was only aware that the Lusitania was a ship and nothing more. After the book, I had learned much more about World War I, the beginning of submarine warfare, Woodrow Wilson and that the full name of the U-Boat is the ‘Unterseeboot’. How could something with such an adorable name wreak such havoc? I even learned what sparked the Armenian genocide. It’s been in the news recently as nations around the world marked the centennial of the genocide and Kim Kardashian refused to be a part of it on her visit to Turkey. I had no idea that it was a result of happenings during World War I and now I do.

The book is packed full of information, which I think could get a little dry and overwhelming for many readers. And, maybe because there was no pointy-nosed killer, the story wasn’t as interesting and fun as his other books that I’ve read. But I, having zero knowledge concerning this realm of history, was eager to take it all in. And despite the dryness of the material, I think Larson did a great job of bringing the passengers’ stories to life and of building suspense – Even though I knew the Lusitania was going to be sunk from the beginning, I found myself hoping along the way that maybe, just maybe, it would be able to escape its fate. But alas! You cannot rewrite history and I ended the book a little heartbroken.

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