Erik Larson’s Dead Wake takes readers through the events leading up to the sinking of the Cunard passenger ship, The Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by a German U-Boat. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived. It only took one torpedo to quickly take down the giant ship. The death rate was compounded when only six of the Lusitania’s twenty-two conventional lifeboats got away before the great ship sunk.
With his signature style of making non-fiction read like a novel, Larson focuses on:
- Captain William Thomas Turner, a skilled and dedicated skipper who sailed the Lusitania on its final voyage.
- Walther Schwieger, the captain of U-20, who sunk the Lusitania, and who kept logs of his activity.
- Room 40, a top-secret room of the British Navy, lead by Winston Churchill, that tracked U-Boat activity, including that of U-20.
- President Woodrow Wilson, a recent widower who spends a great deal of time leisurely driving his car, playing golf, and wooing his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt.
- Various passengers, including an art dealer and a famous socialite, along with general life aboard the ship during the crossing.
- The subsequent investigation of the sinking, including a cover-up by the British government.
Through these various angles, Larson covers both the military perspective and the human side of the loss of the Lusitania. There were many factors, including delays, cost-saving measures, and weather that caused the Lusitania to met its fateful end. The term “dead wake” refers to the track of the torpedo and its trail of fading disturbance as it headed towards the ship.
Among the dead were 123 Americans. Yet, this was not enough to get the United States to join the Allies and fight in World War I. It was not until two years later when Germany tried to form an alliance with Mexico, that the United States finally joined the war.
4-Stars. Book Club Recommended.