Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania


Dead Wake
The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
By Erik Larson

Published by Scribe
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781925106503

The sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania occurred on 7 May 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against Great Britain and her allies. The ship was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in 18 minutes. The vessel went down 11 miles (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 and leaving 761 survivors. Those are the bare facts.

The Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic liners and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and advertised the fact in New York newspapers of the time.

The sinking of the Lusitania is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it well, switching between hunter and hunted, bringing to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

This new book was published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, which is widely believed to have drawn the US into the war. In fact it took nearly two years for this to happen.

As The New York Times says of author Erik Larson, he is ‘an old hand at treating nonfiction like high drama … He knows how to pick details that have maximum soapy potential and then churn them down until they foam’. I’d absolutely concur with that assessment.

Local publisher Scribe is to be congratulated for bringing quality non-fiction books to Australian audiences. Scribe publishes over 50 non-fiction and fiction titles annually in Australia and about 40 in the United Kingdom.

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