Book review: Eric Larson’s ‘Dead Wake’ depicts suspense, romance of Lusitania episode

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

“Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” is a work of nonfiction. Often with a work of nonfiction, there is the accusation that some of it has been fictionalized. In the author’s “Note to Readers,” Larson, an experienced writer of nonfiction, states: “I hasten to add, as always, that this is a work of nonfiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from a memoir, letter, telegram or other historical document. My goal was to try to marshal the many nodes of real-life suspense and, yes, romance that marked the Lusitania episode, in a manner that would allow the reader to experience it as did the people who lived through it …. ”

The Lusitania was a large British ship which fully loaded displaced 44 tons. In 2015, it was the fastest civilian ship afloat. Early in May of that year, it was to leave New York for Great Britain with nearly 2,000 passengers and crew as well as considerable cargo. Some of the cargo was destined for the British war effort, although that was not widely known, as America was officiallyneutral.

The Lusitania never made it. “Dead Wake” is its story as well as the story of those people involved. It is well crafted and succeeds in holding the reader’s attention as the author intended.

One method to remember what you’ve read is to identify questions that you hope to answer during your reading. This works well with nonfiction.

• Why is the book titled “Dead Wake”?

• What actually started World War I? Why did the U.S. get involved?

• What personal problem was President Wilson dealing with as he struggled to keep the U.S. out of the war?

• Why wasn’t the Lusitania provided destroyer protection when it reached the war zone?

Add to those questions the fact that you join a German submarine captain in his hunt, and you have a book that both holds your interest and expands your perspective.

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