Dead Wake by Erik Larson
2015 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Scott Brick
Finished on June 18, 2015
Rating: 2/5 (Meh)
From the bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania
On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds"—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
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.
My husband loved Dead Wake, as have many of my friends, so I had high hopes when I began listening to the audio book, which is read by Scott Brick. I've enjoyed Brick's narration of other books (The Passage and The Twelve), but this time I was disappointed. I'm not sure if it was his delivery or the writing which fell short, but I found my mind wandering on more than one occasion. I did learn a bit about this historical event, but I feel that the details of Larson's account of the final voyage of the Lusitania were more superfluous than compelling. One reviewer stated the following, to which I most heartily agree:
If anything I would have preferred that he edited out some of all the details presented. I don't need to know a passenger's ticket number or that Mr. X wore a pink vest or the dimensions of a book brought on board. I believe Larson was trying to recreate the atmosphere on the boat, and he certainly did, but the details were excessive.
In a word, lackluster. Print vs. audio? Perhaps the former is the way to go with this one. Or better yet, wait for the movie. I'm sure there will be one in the near future.