In this day before sonar, a submarine traveled utterly blind, trusting entirely in the accuracy of sea charts. One great fear of all U-boat men was that a half-sunk derelict or an uncharted rock might lie in their path.


Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

By Erik Larson
430 Pages

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.

How much do you know about World War I? The American involvement, the role of German U-Boats? What do you know about the Lusitania? Because I guarantee that even if you consider yourself well versed in all of those topics, you will still find something to learn within this book. But don’t let the non-fiction moniker scare you! Though this book is immensely educational, it also entertains through the humor, drama, and suspense lived by those who Erik Larson quotes and features.

Dead Wake follows a handful of different story-lines that all converge around the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

We follow the ship’s captain and a number of the passengers, giving insight into the industry, the society, and the cultural trends at the time.deadwake

We follow the U-Boat that did the deed, U 20, learning about it’s captain, about early submarines, about the strategies and mindsets required for the new brand of warfare.

We follow the governments of Britain and the United States, the intelligence agencies, the Wilson presidency, the factors that must line up to prompt American into war.

It sounds like a lot, but Larson does a masterful job piecing together all of these people and places and themes. The narrative is informative, but also entertaining. The author, by taking a close look at many of the major players involved in the incident, brings a very human side to the tragedy from all angles. Yet, at the same time, you are able to appreciate the scope of the tragic sinking, knowing many of the individual actions that influenced and directed history.

Should You Read This?

If you are a fan of non-fiction reads, of naval history, World War I, luxury cruise history, early 20th century society, or even the Wilson administration, snag a copy of this. I’m probably missing about a thousand other sub-topics of interest, but you get my point.

There is so much to learn and discover through this book, and it is presented with masterful organization and insight. Dead Wake, though a work of non-fiction, was full of suspense and emotion, and will make you think about the nature of war and accountability.

Summary from Goodreads