Weekly Meeting: Dead Wake

Dead Wake

This week I am discussing Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.  This book has been on my remainders list for months.  I have been on the Overdrive waiting list for months.


  • None!  Actually, it was sitting on the remainders list, so this is exciting.

What You Should Know:

  • This is about World War 1 micro-history.
  • Like many of Larson’s books, this is narrative.  For me this means he looks at the big picture, but also tells smaller, personal stories.


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?

I knew nothing about the Lusitania before reading this book except for the fact that it was another ship that sank as it crossed the ocean.  All of this book was a revelation like the way people behaved those few days aboard the ship, how little was learned from other ships like the Titanic, how the British kept things from the liner and the Americans to manipulate the US, and how frustrating the Germans can be (as a nation).

I had a conversation with my mother’s oldest friend the other day.  I was telling her about my frustration with books about World War 2.  I have talked about it here.  We realized that our collective obsession with WW2 might have to do with it having such a clearly defined good side and bad side.  World War 1 does not have that.  You have two countries who took advantage of a small localized assassination to launch a much larger campaign against each other.  There was no bad guy or good guy.  There was just manipulations that brought most of the world into this.

I think WW1 stories are beginning to come into fashion.  I am pretty sure I am not the only one tired of WW2.  Now I wish we could have more to say about the Korean War.  That is the war I never hear about at all.

2- 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?

Who cares about a Vanderbilt who probably faked his own death (I have no proof of this whatsoever).  My favorite was Charles Lauriat, the book dealer.  The story about the rare volumes he carried and lost fascinated me more than any other story.  How does he not have a Wikipedia entry?  A close second was Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the first women architects in the US AND a devoted spiritualist.  I think she is fascinating.  I was pleased to see that she does have a Wikipedia entry.

Who Will Like:

  • Those who like World War 1 stories, especially those about how the US got into the war.
  • People who enjoy reading about sinking ships… literal ones.
  • People who like German U-Boat stories.

Other Books I Finished This Week:

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