The sinking of the Lusitania was one of the incidents that helped propel the United States into World War I. A luxury liner loaded with civilians sunk by a German submarine.
In Dead Wake, Erik Larson tells the story of the ship, the crew, and the passengers of the greyhound of the sea, the fastest liner then afloat. He also tells the story of the submarine captain and his mission to sink as many ships trying to reach England as he could.
Larson is a gifted writer with the rare ability to tell history like he was telling a story. This isn’t just a recitation of facts and figures. Larson paints detailed portraits of the people involved, bringing them to life on the pages. His ability to do this reflects not only his skill as a writer but also his talent as a historian and researcher to capture the people as real human beings, not just names and statistics.
Even though we know the outcome, Larson gives us a thriller. He switches from the Lusitania to the submarine to those on shore on both sides of the Atlantic, building the tension and suspense to a satisfying climax.
He is honest about the foibles of the men and women involved, especially those in decision-making roles.
For me, one of the most revealing things about the sinking is how close the Lusitania came to missing her rendezvous with the German torpedo. If she had left on time, if she had been permitted to use her full capacity of speed, she and the submarine would have missed each other by mere hours.
A very enjoyable and enlightening read.