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Wyn Craig Wade's "Titanic" is my third favorite account of the tragedy (the other two were written by Walter Lord). He describes the US Senate hearings into the disaster, held within days of the event, and combines that with powerful flashbacks of the sinking itself. For example, when he recounts the testimony of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, who was actively involved in filling the lifeboats, Wade interweaves a number of anecdotes about the lifeboats, some of them episodes that Lowe himself could not have seen but which help to fill out the story and increase the sense of impending doom.
The chairman of the Senate hearings, William Alden Smith, has come in for considerable ridicule over the years for his sometimes repetitive and often obtuse questions. Wade draws a very different picture. Smith's admittedly idiosyncratic way of questioning witnesses was actually a well-honed skill, one that elicited a great deal of information that might have otherwise been missed. (Some of it was also the result of lousy acoustics and background noise, which forced Smith to ask the same question more than once.) Smith almost single-handedly wrote the committee's report and introduced it to the Senate with a masterful speech that very effectively summed up what was then known about the sinking.
Because of Smith's efforts, many details of the story that would otherwise have been lost became a matter of public record; and the legislation that followed went a long way toward improving the chances of future travelers to survive a similar disaster. It was Smith who zeroed in on the lack of adequate lifeboats, the perfunctory and inadequate lifeboat drills, the terrible risks Captain Smith was taking by sailing at top speed in waters that were known to be dangerous (and with no additional lookouts); Smith who brought out the facts about steerage passengers' ignorance of their real danger until it was too late, about the "laissez faire" attitude taken toward their ability to reach the boat deck, about the huge discrepancy in survival rates between the classes. It was Smith who exploded the myth of the "stiff upper lip" on the part of the cultured English gentlemen: true enough early in the night of the sinking before it was clear to everyone that the ship really was going down; after that it was every man for himself, regardless of class. (In other words, James Cameron's depiction of people's behavior during the sinking is much more accurate than that of either the 1953 film or the 1958 film version of Lord's book.)
The book was originally published about 25 years ago and has since been reissued with a new foreword and a new afterword, which are included in this audiobook.
Robertson Dean gives a wonderful reading of this deeply moving book. There's one exception to this, something I found distracting at times: Dean has a very deep, very North American voice, and his attempts at a variety of British accents are hit and miss. The accents themselves would be all over the map in the best of hands: testimony was taken from people of all social classes, and Dean tries to reflect that in his reading, but the results are only occasionally convincing. Even so, as I said, this remains one of my favorite books on the subject, and it's a great and brooding listen.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
I thought that I knew everything there was to know about the Titanic. I was wrong. I also thought that I must have read this book before; as I thought that I must have read all there is to read....wrong again!
This book, told from the point of view of the American Senate hearings, sheds new light on the events, the personalities, and the reactions of all those involved.
The reading is masterful. On many occasions, I would return to re-listen to a extract; not because it was garbled, but because the details were so good; that I needed to re-listen, and re-think my supposed knowledge of a fact. Simply an excellent listen.
I recommend, that if you haven't read anything about the Titanic, (is there anyone left in the world who hasn't?) that Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember" is a good starting point. A background to most of the story will enhance this telling; but then, listen to this, and become further enlightened.
I am putting Robertson Dean on my list of readers to take note of. He did a great job, apart from trying to mimic some speech patterns of Brits, a teeny word or two just marginally wonky in places; but; absolutely forgiven, as those moments only briefly ached the ear of this fussy Brit. But Dean's pacing was superb. His voice good to listen to.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful