Dead Wake





Dead Wake

‘Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of Lusitania’ is a novel written by Erik Larson and is ranked as one of New York Times’ Bestseller. The book is about the American Ship known as Lusitania that sets out on a voyage which turns out to be its last. The ship was believed by the Americans to be unsinkable and had a large number of passengers on board when it happened. The book explores the characters of several passengers in the boat as well as the perspective of the Germans and British who were at war. The book is centered on the First World War in which the two countries attacked each other’s ships. America had long refused to be drawn into the war, and the sinking of Lusitania by a German submarine was an act of provocation. The provocation worked, and the United States under President Woodrow finally joined the war in 1917 (Gwin). The author recreates the events around the sinking of the boat vividly from many different sources to give the reader an enthralling and unforgettable read.

Lusitania was a humongous passenger ship, seven stories high and thought by the Americans to be just as invincible as the Titanic before it. The fact that it was a passenger ship made those in it reasonably sure that it would not be attacked. Germany and Britain were at war and had declared that they would attack the opposing country’s ship, but this was regarded to mean military vessels and not passenger lines such as Lusitania (Larson). Britain had sought to enlist the help of the United States as an ally in the war, but President Woodrow was reluctant (Gwin).

On the first of May 1915, Lusitania began its voyage from New York for Liverpool with many notable citizens on board including millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt, Charles Lauriat who was a famed bookseller, Hughes Lane, a renowned art collector, a pioneer female architect as well as many others (Larson). The book also explores other characters aboard the ship such as the two brothers, Cliff and Leslie Morton who were deckhands on the Lusitania. The number of women and children aboard the ship was also quite significant, more than any in other ships before it. The air in the vessel is described as being nonchalant and mundane; there was eating, drinking, and smoking, a lot of the latter two. The ship’s captain was William Thomas Turner. The sinking of the boat might have been blamed on several instances of oversight. The New York Times had on 1st May 1915 announced that the Germans might target non-military vessels, but the warning was ignored (Larson). America had been accused of using passenger ships to ferry military equipment to Britain.

The German submarine U-20 was responsible for sinking Lusitania (Lauriat Jr). The German submarine’s captain was Captain Walther Schweiger who was only thirty-two years old at the time. By leading the sub that sank the Lusitania and killed hundreds upon hundreds of people, it is tempting to regard the captain as a cold and unfeeling murderer. He is however described to have had a love of dogs, and the action of sinking the ship was merely an act of duty, his duty to lead his men and serve his country. The German officers were stuck in the claustrophobic submarine in which the air was stale and shared a small toilet. These problematic conditions make the reader sympathize with the Germans even as they were on a deadly mission. They are the antagonists of the story. When the Germans launched the torpedo that sunk the Lusitania, even they were surprised that they were successful.

Erik Larson based his story on several sources. These include the accounts of survivors such as Dwight Harris who old of the sinking of the ship in an exhaustive letter to his mother. Many other survivors gave their first-hand account of the events they had witnessed during the sinking of the ship and this helped the author to recreate the moment that the boat sank. The author also describes the photographic evidence of the deaths that he accessed by the University of Liverpool. The photographs enabled him to understand just how great the magnitude of the number of fatalities especially of infants and children on that fateful day.

The author of ‘Dead Wake’ achieves his objective of telling the story of the sinking of the Lusitania in a vivid and realistic manner. The audience can get a glimpse of the events and feel like they lived through the harrowing happenings of the day. The description of the German submarine and its determined officers, the calm mood of indestructibility on the Lusitania as well as President Woodrow’s affair with Edith lead the reader into conjuring a convincing image in their minds. The main strength of the book lies in its ability to give an accurate picture to its audience mainly based on the secondary sources that the author referred to. The book tells the story of the facts that triggered the American involvement in the First World War and leaves the reader wondering whether the loss of life might have been intentional on the part of the British as they sought to involve the United States in their war with Germany (Preston). Overall, the book makes for an informative read, and the reader gets the closest reenactment of the events of the time as possible.

Works Cited

Gwin, Mary E. “” More Precious Than Peace”: Woodrow Wilson, the German U-boat Campaign, and America’s Path to World War I.” (2016).

Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Broadway Books, 2015.

Lauriat Jr, Charles E. The Lusitania’s Last Voyage: Being a Narrative of the Torpedoing and Sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German Submarine Off the Irish Coast May 7, 1915. Simon and Schuster, 2016.

Preston, Diana. Wilful murder: The sinking of the Lusitania. Random House, 2003.