Dead Wake

  • by Erik Larson
  • Narrated by Scott Brick
  • 13 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the number-one New York Times best-selling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania, published to coincide with the one-hundredth anniversary of the disaster.
On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds", 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. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat,but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their ways toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings 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, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.


What the Critics Say

"As events escalate toward the momentous sinking of the British passenger liner LUSITANIA by a German U-boat during WWI, this comprehensive history reads almost like a novel, and that's exactly how Scott Brick narrates it. He adds emphasis where needed, goes quieter when appropriate, and varies his pacing effectively. His narration doesn't get in the way of the writing--it enhances it." (AudioFile)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

'A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush'

On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania departed from New York on the return leg of her 101st voyage. Six days later, 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo at 2:10 p.m. and within 18 minutes (the Titanic took 2 hr. 40 min.) the Lusitania slid into the water. A NY newspaper's headline read “A Deed for Which a Hun Would Blush, a Turk Be Ashamed, and a Barbary Pirate Apologize.”

The seeds of disaster may have been sown before the Lusitania even left NY when the Cunard Line and the passengers chose to brush aside the official warnings from the German Embassy. Kaiser Wilhelm had declared 8 months earlier that the North Sea was now a war zone, in which all merchant ships, including those from neutral countries, were liable to be sunk without warning. Adding heft to the facts that Larson presents, are the damning little mistakes and coincidences, plus the what-if's. He strategically lays out the pending disaster and shows how relevant it all is -- how 5 min. either way could have changed history. And, at times it felt like everything conspired against the Lusitania.

Historians have flirted with the notion of a conspiracy orchestrated by Winston Churchill to prod a neutral United States into the war in Europe. While Larsen doesn't set out to prove or disprove that notion, the information he gives does push the reader in one of those directions. Citing comments by King George V: “Suppose they should sink the Lusitania with American passengers aboard?” and Churchill: “For our part, we want the traffic [from America] - the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still.” And naval historian, the late Patrick Beesly's interview with the Imperial War Museum in London: “there was indeed a plot, however imperfect, to endanger the Lusitania in order to involve the United States in the war.” I suppose a conclusion here calls for a higher form of deductive reasoning than if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck.

Balancing the facts with the human elements and the political theater, Larson keeps the integrity of history, but gives it an easily held timeline and some pizazz -- even though we know what's coming, Larson's signature is skillful telling that builds anticipation. (Though his talent can occasionally be an impediment, as in having to read over pages of the ship's manifest. The minutiae at times is more a curiosity than it is interesting.)

What happened adds up to more than just a series of horrible coincidences. : Why wasn't there a military escort into the Channel; why was a boat responding to the mayday ordered to turn around; why did *Room 40* not let the Lusitania know the information they had decoded; and...why were approximately four million rounds of U.S.manufactured Remington .303 bullets in the Lusitania's hold? Larsen puts the questions in your mouth, but don't expect him to give any answers. Not a lot of new information, but it's still history like only Larsen does history.

Scott Brick's talents seem well suited reading this kind of book.
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- Mel

Too Much Fluff

I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out just exactly what Woodrow Wilson's love life had to do with the Lusitania sinking. And not just a little is included; I now know more than I ever knew or wanted to know about the subject.

Seems like Larson uses the same method most of my tenured sociology profs used in their publications--namely, cram those suckers full of anything even remotely related to the subject and re-use long phrases and statistics over and over. Padding, I think is the term. Of course, I for damsure know the rate at which water comes through an open porthole, and for that I'm thankful.

Seriously though, I really think the book would have been much better trimmed down to somewhere between maybe half and two-thirds of its length. But maybe Larson was paid by the word. Thank goodness for Mr. Brick, whose narration alone kept me from skipping the first half of the book entirely.
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- Jerry Morelock "I've been a member a lot longer than one year--that is all."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-10-2015
  • Publisher: Random House Audio