Rating: 5 Stars
I am not sure what else can be said about this account of the sinking that has not already been said - aside from something personal for me in that I have no idea why it has taken me so long to read this one. I mean seriously, I have owned it for ages, at least a year. And really there is no excuse even before that, for someone who claims to be such a Titanic-enthusiast. Okay, that sounds terrible, to be an enthusiast of some a tragedy of such proportion. But if you have ever read a single other review of any book about Titanic tat I have read, I think you understand what I am awkwardly trying to get at. Basically, I should have read this one a long time ago.
There are several reasons this remains the classic account of Titanic's final hours. Lord is a very good writer and at the time this was written - in 1955 - he was able to interview over sixty survivors. That in itself is amazing to me. To gain insight and recollections from people firsthand, not simply reading their memoirs or diaries later, but straight from their own mouths.
The shifting of points of view is important to the story as well. This is not an account of the entire voyage, but begins immediately in the crow's nest with Fleet spotting the iceberg. There's no need for superfluous prose, we are at the heart of the matter within moments and there the iceberg looms. For those of us having the luxury of reading about the event 100 years on, we can do nothing but helplessly read as the minutes tick by as the ship slowly meets her fate.
We also see the events as they occur from the perspectives of both the Carpathia and the Californian. Just an aside, the lack of response from the latter ship will never cease to be infuriating. If they knew the ship steaming past them was Titanic, something the crew even discussed among themselves apparently, then they also thought they saw the ship stopped, trying ti signal with Morse code, and firing several flares after midnight WHY WOULD THEY THINK EVERYTHING WAS OKAY??!!
The actions in those early morning hours of the Carpathia and her crew are also deserving of attention, but in a much more positive way. Too full steam ahead into an ice field, faster than the ship has ever sailed before, preparing for survivors, passengers giving up clothing, bedding, toiletries, etc. I also have always found the account particularly worthy of a mention in that when Carpathia finally reached New York, she did not dock at the Cunard pier first. Instead, Captain Rostron guided his ship to Pier 59 where the White Star Line ships were docked and returned the company's property - the lifeboats. What a wholly heartbreaking sight that must have been, when those on-shore realized what was happening.
Here we get all the standard Titanic accounts we are used to - Ida Strauss unwilling to leave her husband after so many years together, J.J. Astor inquiring if he might join his pregnant wife in the lifeboat but his request being decline, Guggenheim and his personal attendant dressing in their best to go down like gentlemen, Thomas Andrews in the smoking room in those final terrible minutes, and so on. We HAVE those stories BECAUSE of this book. Without this account, we might not know of these stories, or others detailing cowardice or bravery on the part of many crew and/or passengers.
If you only ever read one book about Titanic, it should be this one. Highly recommended.