Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dead Wake! The Last Crossing of the Lustania

Book: Dead Wake! The Last Crossing of the Lustania
Author:Erik Larson
Edition:Nook Book
Read:October 21, 2015
443 pages
Genre:  History
Rated: 3 1/2  out of 5

The Lusitania was sunk in May of 1915 by a German U-boat. This had an immense impact on bringing the United States into World War I, but not for another couple of years. The book talks about the events leading up to the sinking both from the the British, United States and German perspectives. He shows how British intelligence knew about the U-boat in the area, but did not warn the players to save their lives. Also the book talks about President Wilson, Winston Churchill and the submarine commander.


The Lusitania was simply too big and too well built to sink. (chp Impact) Sort of sounds like banks in 2008-they were made too big to fail, and fail they did. Never thought of the Lusitania was a metaphor for the Great Recession of 2008.

After reading the book and how Churchill was cast in World War I, along with some other books concerning World War II, deception was a major card for Churchill. He tried to get the United States involved in both wars by provoking the Germans to attack objects which would offend Americans. Little by little, Churchill let small or large innocents suffer collateral damage. Was this by design? Larson weaves his story in a way which leads you to think it was deliberate.

Now the $64 questions, how much of a tactic is this for our leaders of the 21st century?

Along with that, Churchill was willing for the captain of the Lusitania, Turner,  to take the fall for bad captaining rather than the Germans, bad instructions or England itself. The more I read, the more I wonder about Churchill's moralness. Probably not his greatness as part of greatness is to make decision, forced decisions. Decisions not so much of right and wrong, but how to accomplish the greater goals. Morals tend to be lost, as long as the goal is achieved. The burden of being a leader.

As I am reading and admiring the research which Larson shows, I was wondering how he organized things. So when I saw Larson's blog, I stumbled on his strategy in his blog. Interesting and fun. Larson's way of research:

Dead Wake! is a story told well about the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915. Erik Larson does a good job of giving the back ground leading up to the sinking, including from the submarine's captain. Larson does a good enough job of giving background and setting up situations that you understood how  Kapit√§nleutnant Schwieger would order the torpedoing of a cruise ship with close to 2,000 civilians on board. Larson combines both his story telling abilities with voluminous research to produce this book-for those who are interested in research, just his notes at the back is worth the book.

But the draw back to the book is that he is weak in his conclusions. He leads you up to the point of a conclusion, but does not state a conclusion. Such as, was setting up the scenario where the sinking of the Lusitania part of Churchill's efforts to bring the United States into the war? Why did Wilson not declare war after the sinking? But we as readers can draw our own conclusions, including my ponderings,  seeing big disasters in the past, are our current big disasters something to be hoped for as a means to move our county in a different direction? (Note: I do not indulge in conspiracy theories.) Just something to ponder.

New Words:
  • lazaret (Chp Menagerie): a quarantine station for maritime travellers. Lazarets can be ships permanently at anchor, isolated islands, or mainland buildings.
  • dyspeptic (chp Halibut): of or having indigestion or consequent irritability or depression.
  • donjon (chp Comfort Denied): The fortified tower of a motte or early castle; a keep.
  • trepanning (chp The Kings Question): a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull, exposing the dura mater to treat health problems related to intracranial diseases. It may also refer to any "burr" hole created through other body surfaces, including nail beds. It is often used to relieve pressure beneath a surface. A trephine is an instrument used for cutting out a round piece of skull bone.
  • dead wake (chp Beauty): the trail of a fading disturbance, whether from a ship or torpedo.
  • peripatetic (chp The Lost): traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
  • supervened (chp The Lost): occur later than a specified or implied event or action, typically in such a way as to change the situation.
  • mezzontint (chp Personel Effects):a printmaking process of the intaglio family, technically a drypoint method. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple.
Book References:
  • Danger! and Other Stories by Arthut Conan Doyle
  • Raiders of the Deep by Lowell Thomas

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: I first started reading about the Lusitania on a whim, following my between-books strategy of reading voraciously and promiscuously.
  • Last Line: Her companion, Edwin Friend, had indeed been lost but was reported by members of the reconstituted American Society for Psychical Research to have paid the group several visits.
Table of Contents:
    Mining suspense
    A word from the captain
    "Bloody monkeys"
    Jump rope and caviar
    Dead wake
    The black soul
    The sea of secrets
    Epilogue: personal effects.


From CSU Fresno Osher Book Group lead by Kay Davies

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

Erik Larson ushers us aboard the Lusitania as it begins its tragic and final crossing. It is a timely trip, as 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Setting sail on May 1, 1915, from New York, the
Lusitania was a monument to the hubris and ingenuity of the age. It was immense and luxurious, the fastest civilian ship then in service, and carried a full roster of passengers, including a record number of infants and children.

The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though that morning a German notice had appeared in the city’s newspapers warning that travelers sailing on British ships "do so at their own risk." Though the notice didn’t name a particular vessel, it was widely interpreted as being aimed at the
Lusitania. The idea that a German submarine could sink the ship struck many passengers as preposterous, a sentiment echoed in Cunard’s official response to the warning: "The truth is that the Lusitaniais the safest boat on the sea. She is too fast for any submarine. No German war vessel can get her or near her."

German U-boat captain Walther Schwieger—known to rescue dachshund puppies, but to let the crews of torpedoed ships drown—thought differently.
Dead Wake switches between hunter and hunted, allowing readers to experience the crossing, and the disaster itself, as it unfolds.

Along the way, Larson paints a portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era, and brings to life a broad cast of characters, including President Woodrow Wilson, awash in grief after the loss of his wife, awakening with the blush of new love; famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat, a passenger carrying an irreplaceable literary treasure; Captain William Thomas Turner, who took the safety of his  passengers very seriously, but secretly thought of them as "bloody monkeys"; and Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, whose ultra-secret spy group failed to convey crucial naval intelligence that might have saved the Lusitania and its passengers.

Discussion Questions

1. In his Note to Readers, Erik Larson writes that before researching
Dead Wake, he thought he knew "everything there was to know" about the sinking of the Lusitania, but soon realized "how wrong [he] was." What did you know about the Lusitania before reading the book? Did any of Larson’s revelations surprise you?

2. After reading
Dead Wake, what was your impression of Captain Turner? Was he cautious enough? How did you react to the Admiralty’s attempts to place the blame for the Lusitania’s sinking squarely on his shoulders?

3. Erik Larson deftly weaves accounts of glamorous first-class passengers such as Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt with compelling images of middle-class families and of the ship’s crew. Whose personal story resonated the most with you?

4. Charles Lauriat went to extraordinary measures to protect his Thackeray drawings and his rare edition of A Christmas Carol, but eventually both were lost. In Lauriat’s position, which possessions would you have tried to save? Why does Larson write in such great detail about the objects people brought aboard the

5. Edith Galt Wilson would come to play a significant role in the White House after Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke in 1919. What made her a good match for Wilson? What other aspects of Wilson’s personal life did you find intriguing?

6. Why was Wilson so insistent on maintaining neutrality even as German U-boat attacks claimed American lives? Was his reluctance to go to war justified?

7. How did you respond to the many what-ifs that Larson raises about U.S. involvement in the Great War? Would Wilson have abandoned his isolationist stance without the 
Lusitania tragedy? Could Germany and Mexico have succeeded in conquering the American Southwest?

8. By attacking civilian ships, were Captain Schwieger and his U-20 crew committing acts of terrorism? Does it matter that Germany ran advertisements declaring the waters around Great Britain to be a war zone?

9. How did Captain Schwieger’s leadership style compare with that of Captain Turner? Did you feel sympathy for Schwieger and his crew?

10. Though the British Navy was tracking U-20’s location, it didn’t alert the
Lusitania, nor did it provide a military escort. Why not? Do you consider Churchill and Room 40 partly to blame for the sinking? How should countries balance the integrity of their intelligence operations with their duty to protect civilians?

11. Some have argued that Churchill deliberately chose not to protect the
Lusitania in hopes that the sinking of such a prominent ship would draw the United States into the war. After reading Larson’s account, what do you think of this theory?

12. While Germany’s advertisement scared away some would-be 
Lusitania passengers, most placed their faith in the British Navy to protect the ship, and some laughed off the risk altogether. In their position, would you have cancelled your ticket?

13. What lessons does the sinking of the
Lusitania have for us in the twenty-first century?

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