Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Find in catalogOne of my favorite nonfiction authors, Erik Larson, makes history that is almost 100 years old seem fresh and important in this account of a British Ocean liner sailing from New York City to England and how its sinking was a main impetus for America to join World War I (the Great War then) two years after it began. One learns a lot about the horrors of submarine warfare, but human nature seems the same as we know it today, ever hopeful, striving, ambitious, sensitive, heroic at times, often naive, and completely fascinating. The author follows several families and individuals throughout the narrative, and reveals personal details of the recently widowed American President Woodrow Wilson, his pursuit of a new woman in his life, and how his personality was a super-careful one that only was forced into war after much time and deliberation and events that preceded it. I learned a lot, and here is one tidbit: One of the ‘last straws’ creating political pressure on Wilson to enter the war was that a highly placed German official sent a telegram to Mexico saying that if Mexico would work with Germany against the U.S. and the British, then Germany would help Mexico seize and retake several territories worth of the U.S….(Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico). The book is not just historical facts: there are affecting stories about many men and women, and how they reacted to the disaster, including their experiences in the open ocean after the sinking ship (it took only about 18 minutes to sink!) had to be abandoned.

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