Dead Wake

I was at my cousin’s wedding and my uncle was discussing the new Erik Larson book about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. As a fan of Larson (Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts), I was excited to read his latest book, Dead Wake. I read it in just a few days – as per his style, the true tale gripped me from the get-go. Larson tells his stories from the perspective of those who lived them. By researching passenger biographies, ship manifests and captains’ logs, Larson paints a picture of all the people involved in this tragedy, from the youngest of the ship’s passengers to President Woodrow Wilson. Admittedly, I did not really know the story of the Lusitania – only that it was sunk by a German U-boat and that its sinking is what brought the U.S. into the First World War.

But the story is so much more than that – a story of technology, of communication (or lack thereof), of luck and of hope. Mostly, though, it is a story about decision-making: the many opportunities for things to have gone another way, if only a different decision had been made. What if those passengers had taken another ship on another day? What if the British intelligence agency had shared information more readily? What if the U-Boat captain had gone in a different direction? What if the ship had been using all its power instead of conserving? It’s a tragic story, but also fascinating when you consider how many decisions each of us makes on a daily basis – which of those, even the most mundane, have saved us from unbridled success and which from personal tragedy? It is enough to paralyze one into inaction, or propel one into reckless behavior. How you weigh information and what you do with it is the most important part of writing your own story. What’s your next chapter?

– Libby Bingham

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